With the constant emphasis on sustainable ways and lifestyles, more individuals are now willing to invest in biodegradable products. Because candles aren’t an exception, we are often left wondering if they are biodegradable in the first place.
Typically, the answer to this question would be yes. However, it still entirely depends on the source of the wax. Although certain types of wax can biodegrade quickly, others take several decades to fully disintegrate.
The question thus boils down to what the primary material of the candle is. This primary component itself determines the biodegradability of the candle wax.
Does Candle Wax Biodegrade?
The theoretical answer to this question would be YES, as long as the candle wax is derived from natural sources. However, this doesn’t indicate that every kind of candle wax can decompose or is safe to decompose.
Beeswax and almost all other waxes deriving from vegetables and organic sources are deemed biodegradable. Because almost all types of candle wax are made from these materials, it is safe to assume that candle wax is biodegradable.
Every time you light up a candle, you will find the otherwise solid wax melting down and liquid wax drawing down to the wick. Eventually, when your candle will get extremely hot, this liquified version of the wax will immediately evaporate in a gaseous form. This in turn burns out the environmental oxygen and the gas continues to stay even after you have blown the candle out.
While the candle starts to burn, its heat is known to vaporize several wax molecules. As they start reacting with oxygen, capillary action is triggered. This causes the liquid wax to trickle down the wick. If the wax continues to burn and the candle is fully consumed, no wax or external residues are left from the process.
In case the wax does not decompose easily or takes plenty of time to decompose, we deem that type of wax to be non-biodegradable.
What Are Candle Waxes Made of?
Typically candle wax is either made from animal or plant traces. In the majority of the cases, however, they are based on petroleum. This might seem dismal to some, but luckily there are organic and eco-friendly alternatives as well.
One of the common examples here would be beeswax that is primarily derived from animal sources. It is not just used in making candles but also in a range of additional beauty and cosmetic products. The takeaway? It is completely safe and decomposes easily.
Similarly, another common form of wax derived from an animal would be lanolin. These kinds of waxes are used in making candles and other accessories. As with beeswax, you can conveniently decompose them.
You might also find candles made of coconut and soy wax. Both these waxes are fully decomposable and are plant-based and thus natural.
This is one of those waxes you need to avoid if you are looking for something that decomposes quickly and is natural. Paraffin wax is primarily created from petroleum-based products that are loaded with harmful chemicals that aren’t just detrimental to the environment but also to your health.
While some may claim that these kinds of wax decompose over time, there’s more than it appears at the outset. As these waxes decompose, they end up releasing a range of toxic chemicals in your surrounding environment. That is why they cannot be deemed biodegradable.
In addition to being used in candles, Paraffin wax is also used to create petroleum jelly. Because a large number of chemicals are added to it, the wax is never deemed to be safe or eco-friendly.
Even though you won’t popularly find candles made from microcrystalline wax, they are still moderately useful candlewax, primarily made from petroleum. As with the former, this kind of wax is created from crude oil. However, it is still safer because the majority of this oil is separated from the wax while creating the final product.
Note: Candles with pretty fragrances and vibrant colors are often the less biodegradable variants. Although they are pretty to look at, they fail miserably when it comes to the biodegradable quotient. That is why, it is crucial to assess the wax carefully to make sure it is worthy, safe, and eco-friendly.
If you are unsure about a certain kind of candle wax, always read the label and try to go for an item with natural or mostly natural ingredients.
How Long Does Candle Wax Take to Biodegrade?
Just as the biodegradability of wax varies depending on its time, the time taken to biodegrade too depends on the type of wax in question. Certain types of wax, like wax paper, for instance, can decompose in less than 60 days.
Unfortunately, such is not the case for wax that is created from refining crude oil (like paraffin wax). These kinds of waxes may take several decades to decompose and are thus not considered biodegradable.
Interestingly, wax paper decomposes almost instantly even if the primary ingredient in question is paraffin wax. This usually happens because the paper itself is extremely thin. Because the same cannot be said about candles (which are usually larger and in chunks), they take significantly longer time to completely decompose.
Usually, there isn’t any hard-and-fast rule as to how soon your wax will melt. This entirely depends on the type of wax and the quantity used in the question. If the wax is of larger quantity and is non-organic, it will take ages to decompose and vice versa.
Conditions Under Which Wax Decomposes
As with everything else, wax is also known to decompose under some specific conditions. In this section, we will learn more about it.
When it comes to decomposing wax, one of the first things in your mind would be the factors that trigger the decomposition of wax. Some of the common factors would be water, some specific types of microorganisms, the characteristics of soil, the amount and presence of oxygen, the current temperature, et al.
However, this rate of decomposition also alters depending on the kind of source material used in building the max. Avoid using petroleum-laden wax as they take the longest time to decompose.
Does Water Cause Wax to Decompose?
Although there’s a common notion that water causes the wax to break down, that is not entirely true. Why? Because wax is created from multiple lipids, it is not entirely water-soluble.
For the uninitiated, lipids are usually hydrophobic, meaning they are not generally attracted to water. That is why, although water may act as a catalyst for decomposing wax, water alone cannot get the job done.
It is also crucial to consider the melting point of wax while assessing and determining its biodegradability. Even though there’s no standard or specific melting point for wax, most wax will melt within 70 degrees Celsius.
In temperate and warm regions, wax ends up melting quickly, though not fully. Once melted, wax gradually seeps through the soil and is later disintegrated by several microorganisms. In other instances, it is directly evaporated after burning out.
In case you live in warmer regions, you can expect wax to decompose sooner than that in cooler regions.
Is Candle Wax Bad For the Environment?
Candle wax, if made from organic and eco-friendly materials is never bad for the environment. Popular options would be beeswax and soy wax. Not only are these waxes eco-friendly, but they are also incredibly popular for their sustainability.
Soy wax is primarily derived from soybean oil and is considered one of the best options for making candles. It is extremely affordable and fully eco-friendly. The best part: it is derived from a completely renewable resource.
Similarly, beeswax which is derived from honeycombs is considered eco-friendly. It is safe, non-toxic, and does not contain any chemicals. The defining property of this wax, however, is the fact that it releases a bunch of negative ions that help battle out pollution.
The wax to avoid here would be paraffin wax and similar products based on petroleum. They take years to decompose and are not environmentally friendly.
Are Candle Wicks Eco-friendly?
While candle wicks aren’t traditionally eco-friendly, you will find a bunch of these wicks that are coreless and are made from a paper filament. These wicks are strong and rigid, all while reducing soot, dust, some, and other harmful toxins. These wicks work best for candles made from soy wax, thanks to their unusually low rate of melting.
Almost all kinds of wax are considered biodegradable, given that it is being derived from a proper resource that is also renewable. Because you will find multiple variants of candle wax, it is crucial to understand where your specific candle wax is originating from.
In case the primary source of your candle wax is either plants or animals, its biodegradability quotient is significantly high. Considering this factor, avoid using paraffin wax candles because it is notorious for being non-biodegradable.
Look for eco-friendly candles and you will find plenty of options. And to do that, all you need to do is focus on candles made from plant and animal sources.