• Small Sustainable Swaps

Candles - What to think about

A friend asked me to investigate more eco-friendly candle options. I thought this would be quite a straightforward swap to investigate but I discovered there are several things to consider when it comes to candles – it’s not just about the packaging.


Candles have been made from a variety of waxes throughout history but currently most are made from paraffin which is a by-product of petroleum (crude oil) refining. This is quite a cheap material to use for making candles however as it burns the candle will give off a few products including carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) and may give off toxins such as benzene and toluene. In small amounts these may not be a big problem, but a cleaner alternative would still be preferable. (BBC News - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8211543.stm)

Alternatives to paraffin wax would be beeswax (non-vegan), rapeseed, coconut or soy waxes.

Beeswax can give a natural aroma that comes from the honey and flower nectar therefore it wouldn’t normally be used for adding other fragrances to. They can also burn more cleanly and brighter than other waxes. Beeswax candles may also help to purify the air.

Rapeseed wax is a relatively new wax being used for scented candles. It gives off scent well and burns slowly. Many independent brands, particularly in Europe are beginning to consider and use rapeseed wax as a more sustainable alternative to soy wax as it is a commonly grown crop.

Coconut wax burns cleanly and slowly, it also gives off fragrance well however it is more expensive due to the production processes involved. Coconuts are a high yield crop making this a more sustainable option.

Soy is another alternative you may want to consider as it gives a long burn time but doesn’t hold fragrance as well. However, it is important to be aware of how the soy is produced as the increased production of soy may be a factor in increased deforestation in South America. The Round Table on Responsible Soya Association (RTRS) is a non-profit organisation promoting the responsible production, trade, and use of soy. Some brands that chose to use soy wax will aim to use organic soy wax to help overcome these issues.

In many cases you may find candles contain a combination of these waxes as producers try to combine the different qualities of the waxes. Remember to carefully check the wax used in the production of the candles you are considering if you have certain preferences.


Often candles will have synthetic fragrances added to them as we all love a good smelly candle! Some synthetic fragrances added to candles may contain phthalates which may cause irritation and health issues depending on the levels involved. The alternative could be to use essential oils derived from plants. Not only will they smell nice, essential oils can have specific effects on the mind and body when used appropriately. It is still important to note that certain essential oils can still be harmful if not used correctly.


It is also important to consider the candle wick. Wicks are normally made from string or cord and are sometimes infused with chemicals to help modify they way that they burn. The best kind of wick is a natural material with no added chemicals such as 100% cotton or paper.


Finally, when looking at candles you will want to carefully consider the packaging or holders that they come in. Generally, you want to avoid candles that come wrapped in plastic as the single use plastic often cannot be recycled. Candle holders themselves normally are made of glass or metal usually aluminium. You could look for recycled glass holders and try to reuse or recycle the holder after use. Aluminium can also be recycled so remember to do this after use.

If you are creative, you could even try making your own candles. In doing this way you will know exactly what has gone into your candle and you can personalise the look and fragrance to your own personal liking.

I love the look of these drink can candles from Eco Friendly Stuff. They are made from soy wax and essential oils (5 fragrances available) and come in drinks cans! Plastic Freedom offers a large range of soy wax candles they also have a smaller selection of Rapeseed wax candles. The Eco Friendly Living Company has some candles made from a combination of soy and coconut waxes. I haven't tried any of these candles so I can't comment on the quality of them. They are cuggestions for the types of products that are available.

Have a search around and you will find a great variety of plastic free and sustainable candles to suit your preferences.

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