We see the word ‘sustainable’ used freely. It is a catchy word for those seen as environmentally conscientious, used perhaps too liberally. It is desirable for a business to be seen as sustainable. I just read an article where a paraffin candle company discussed their sustainability commitment. Yes, I agree, that’s an oxymoron, sustainable and paraffin in the same sentence. Perhaps it’s because Honey Candles is a well-known beeswax candle company and I am constantly pestered by the Twitter ads from this particular paraffin company that I feel motivated to define what a ‘real’ sustainable candle means to me.
First off sustainability is about your community and the environment. We want our communities to be strong and able to survive and we want the same for our environment. In that respect sustainability means keeping jobs in our community as much as possible. That means not buying fancy packaging offshore just because it’s cheap. It means using minimal packaging made as close to home as possible. A company that is really working towards sustainability manufactures products coming from renewable resources. Good quality natural products are altered as little as possible and chemical additives are avoided.
Let’s talk about beeswax. Beeswax is a natural byproduct of honey production. The processing of beeswax is simple. Beeswax is in its native state with necessary filtering to get it to the point where it makes candle wax that burns well. This means savings on production costs and other resources. It is mostly people power that gets raw beeswax from the hive and into a handmade beeswax candle. If you use beeswax from the country you are from to manufacture candles or at least from your neighbors you aren’t importing raw materials from a distance.
Vegan options for candle wax are soy or palm wax. If using a plant-based candle wax is important to you then you may need to be confident the added stearin needed as a hardener is plant-based and not animal fat or a combination of plant and animal fat.
If you are making palm wax candles, you have to import candle wax. Is it sustainable? That was how this blog started out. The question is what is a sustainable candle? You need to be checking your sources to make sure your palm wax is not defoliating jungles and destroying the habitat of the local jungle wildlife. Until 2009 we made palm wax candles under the brand name Tropico®. Honey Candles became so concerned about the uncertainty of the ethics of the harvest of palm wax we dropped it. You can read more about that at this link What About Palm Wax.
If you aren’t comfortable with beeswax because you are a vegan and feel soy wax better you need to ask yourself this question. Beekeepers are keeping bees for their honey and the pollination of our crops. Any beekeeper we’ve talked to doesn’t want to hurt their bees, they love them. I have heard respectful affection in their voices when they speak of their hardworking bees. Soy growers are farmers, and farmers have big equipment. I grew up in a farming area and I don’t believe that big equipment is very creature friendly. Big tractors pull implements with big tines and forks tearing through the ground. More questions - How many insects and small mammals are put at risk by traditional farming? Are honeybees really put at risk when beekeepers are caring for them? Another consideration is that most soy is GMO or produced in other countries. The ethical issue of defoliation of forests and the use of heavy pesticides comes into the picture then. You can read more about this at What about Soy Wax.
Then there is paraffin. We go back to the original question. What is a real sustainable candle? Paraffin is a petroleum by-product. We all know oil is not renewable. I don’t think we need to go any further with that one. Perhaps we should mention that paraffin doesn’t keep the oil to itself. It emits toxins into the air you breathe when you burn paraffin candles. Some of the toxins released are the same as cigarettes. To find out more about what your paraffin candles might be releasing into the air you can read What is Paraffin?
So I am going to leave it here for you to decide. What do you look for if you really want a sustainable candle? There are several questions for you to ask:
- How much was the wax altered from its original state?
- Is the manufacturer socially and environmentally responsible?
- How many pesticides and disruptive agricultural practices were involved in the wax production?
- Was the candle wax made from a renewable resource?
Let me know what you decide.
Photo by Marlie Marchewka