GreenYour Birthday party
Choose eco-friendly candles
Whether there's 16 of them topping a birthday cake, two tapers gracing the dining room table, or a handful of votives providing fig-scented ambiance around the house, candles can light up your life in more ways than one. But besides casting that gentle flicker, candles can also emit carcinogens and neurotoxins. Eco-friendly candles made from palm oil, beeswax, and soy ensure you clean-burning illumination that’s also longer-lasting and petroleum-free.
How to choose eco-friendly candles
Before you burn, here are some attributes to look for and some pointers to keep in mind while on the look-out for eco-friendly candles for any occasion. Extinguishing the use of sooty, petro-based candles is easier than you'd think.
- Beeswax: Candles made with beeswax are naturally fragrant, nontoxic, soot-free, and non-allergenic. They’re completely renewable and require little, if any, additives. You’ll find that 100 percent beeswax candles are relatively easy to come by and burn longer than regular petro-based paraffin candles.
- Soy: Candles with soybean-based wax are generally vegan, soot-free, and biodegradable, and like beeswax, they’re renewable. They also burn up to 50 percent longer than paraffin candles and, if spilled, can be cleaned up with soap and water. Two downsides: First, soy doesn’t throw scent as well as some other varieties. Second, you won’t find soy candles for your birthday cake or your candelabra since soy wax is soft and therefore usually encased in a glass jar or tin. Oh, and one additional consideration: amp up your candle's green factor by opting out of GMO-varieties; Certified Organic ingredients are GMO-free and therefore healthier for the world's seed supplies.
- Palm oil: Palm oil wax comes from coconuts (the fruit of palm trees) so no plants die during harvesting. Palm oil candles are clean burning and long lasting. Like soy, it’s wise to choose GMO-free palm wax whenever possible.
Choosing soy, beeswax, or palm oil candles will get you burning more cleanly, but keep in mind that hidden ingredients sometimes sneak their way into natural products, so check labels before making a final purchase.
- Watch out for mixes: Be sure to choose 100 percent paraffin-free options (some natural candle manufacturers add a little paraffin to the mix).
- Avoid lead: Opt out of lead-based wicks (very common in regular candles), which can be hazardous to your health.
- Seek out animal-free products: Vegans and animal lovers should be aware that candles (yes, even natural ones) are made with stearic acid—an animal-derived fat from meatpacking plants.
- Go scentless: Those alluring scents and colors may make for a less-than-healthy candle experience, too. Synthetic fragrances often added to candles have been identified as VOC-emitters.
You can ensure you've burning the healthiest-possible candles by making your own! Similar to home soapmaking in both method and popularity, candle making lets you practice the ultimate in quality control: you pick and choose what ingredients go in and what don't. Novices and newbies alike should check out Candle Tech, Candle Help, and Craft Bits for the inside scoop on candle making.
Find it! Eco-friendly candles
Check out these environmentally-friendly burners, full of natural ingredients that won't be as detrimental to your health, or the planet's. And regardless of wax choice, trim wicks to 1/4-inch lengths before each light. This will keep the wick and wax burning at the same rate, giving your candle a longer life.
These sugary and sensual candles from Archipelago Botanicals contain more than 50 percent natural soy wax and use lead-free wicks. They have a 60-hour burn time and are available in White Sugar & Mango and Brown Sugar & Vanilla.
Aveda's Shampure Soy Wax Candle contains 25 pure plant and flower essences (many of them certified organic) packed into a 95 percent recycled glass container. The candle offers 50 hours of clean burn time.
This 12-pack contains tiny, hand-crafted tapers made of 100 percent natural beeswax. Perfect for birthday cakes, these petite burners are available in natural or multi-color packs with three each of Red, Pumpkin, Moss, and Eggplant.
This novelty numbered soy candle will help you mark the passage of time. It tracks your child’s birthday milestones (up to 21 years), burning clean every time. Available in blue, pink, yellow, and white.
Super-fragrant EcoLight Candles are crafted from 100 percent natural soy wax and feature unbleached cotton wicks and recyclable containers. Choose from a wide array of scents both soothing and stimulating like Gardenia, Mandarian Lime, and Vanilla Velvet.
Made with natural palm wax, this pillar comes in a variety of colors and scents, including Autumn Orange, Evergreen, and Mulberry. It measures 3 inches wide, providing a warm green glow for any occasion.
Looking for paraffin-free candles in a wide variety of heady scents? Turn to Palm Creations by Nature's Finest Candles where long-burning, environmentally responsible candles made from palm oil are in ready supply.
Give your home an exotic eco-edge with Pacifica's line of handmade soy candles. All—there are many scents to pick and choose from ranging from Tuscan Blood Orange to Indian Chai—are made a clean burning soy wax blend and essential oils and essences.
Paddywax produces a line of soy wax candles packaged in biodegradable paper pulp boxes complete with hemp twine and recycled, FSC-certified wrapping paper. Choose from a variety of scents including Cucumber & Mint, Fresh Grass, and many more.
Natural body care line Pharmacopia offers candles made from 100 percent organic soy wax and essential oils that are up to standard for use in aromatherapy. Packaged in reusable glass containers, the candles are available in Citrus, Rosemary, Lavender, or Ginger.
Soulshine makes a wide array of all-natural hand dipped and poured beeswax candles free of synthetic colors and fragrances. Pick and choose from long-lasting pillars, votives, tapers, tealights, and a range of novelty candles.
These agents of aromatherapy are made with 100 percent soy wax and essential oils and use hemp or unbleached cotton wicks. Choose from seven different scents including Forest, Indian Summer, and Lavender Sky. Available in two sizes, the candles are encased in tins convenient for both home and travel.
Buying eco-friendly candles helps you go green because...
- Petroleum-based paraffin candles are inherently non-renewable.
- The soot from conventional paraffin candles is the same as that let off by diesel fuel, containing known carcinogens and neurotoxins.
Approximately 1 billion pounds of wax are used in candles each year in the US. These waxes are usually made of hydrocarbons, whether they come from petroleum, vegetable, or animal origin. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that paraffin candles release petro-carbon soot, which in addition to blackening walls, ceilings, and furniture, can contaminate ventilation ducts and add potential carcinogens to the air. This soot often contains carcinogenic and neurotoxic substances like acetone, benzene, trichloroethene, toluene, xylene, and lead, which typically originate with the infused scent.
Soy candles first appeared in the US in 1998, and as of 2006, they made up 7 percent of the $2 billion US candle market. Palm wax was also first developed in the 1990s. As renewable resources, these alternatives are sustainable, affordable, and plentiful.
Beeswax has been used since ancient times. It burns more cleanly than petroleum-based candles and is a renewable resource. Bees, the wildlife responsible for these candles, are ecologically important—they pollinate some of the most valuable crops in the world, yet they’re dying at alarming rates. One postulation is that air pollution (especially that from power plants) interferes with bee communication. Why? Because scent molecules can be destroyed when they come into contact with airborne pollutants. In the 1800s, scents could travel up to 4,000 feet, but because of high pollution levels today, it's more like 620 to 1,000 feet. Choosing bee products supports beekeepers and bees alike, spurring research into the problems and solutions.
Palm and soy plantations have become a major threat to tropical forests worldwide. As two of the fastest growing crops in the world, palm and soy markets have increased 43 percent and 26 percent, respectively. To meet ever-growing demand for these materials, tropical forests are being cleared and burned, resulting in losses of millions of hectares to date. Along with forest losses, important human and animal habitat is being lost, resulting in the endangerment of certain species, including orangutans, Sumatran tigers, and giant armadillos, among others. Monoculture crops are planted in place of these diverse forests, requiring heavy doses of pesticides and herbicides.
A main point of contention in the GMO debate—aside from the ethical and moral questions—are the possible effects that genetic modification may have on the environment. Supporters of GMO production believe that crops, such as soy and palm implanted with certain genes, benefit the environment. And, as the global population grows at a rapid pace, backers of genetic modification believe it may be a way to feed the world without depleting natural resources.
Critics of GM farming consider it eco-tampering and a threat to biodiversity. One possible hazard: pests may become resistant to GMOs that produce their own pesticides, just as some mosquitoes became immune to DDT, which was once used in conventional agriculture. Another concern is the unintentional spread of transgenes through cross-pollination—in other words, the genes of GM crops can be transferred via pollen (through wind and insects) to non-GM crops, making it hard to tell which crops are actually bioengineered and which are not. Self-pollinating plants, such as soybeans and tomatoes, do not pose such risks.
A notable debate relating to cross-pollination began in 1999 after the results of a study revealed B.t. (insect resistant) corn to have lethal effects on the monarch butterfly caterpillar. Although the corn is not fatal to monarch caterpillars, there is worry that pollen from the B.t. corn can travel by wind into nearby fields and contaminate milkweed plants, a caterpillar food source. The caterpillars might eat corn pollen off the milkweed plant and die. However, the initial findings weren't conclusive, so the potential risks of GM crops to other species continues to be researched and debated.
Related health issues
Most candles are made from paraffin, a petroleum byproduct that produces the same soot when burned as diesel fuel. The air contaminants in paraffin fumes include toluene, benzene, methyl ethyl keytone, and naphthalene—the same substances found in paint and varnish removers. Toulene and benzene are human carcinogens, according to the EPA. Many candles also have lead-infused wicks which can result in neurotoxic fumes. These wicks were banned by the EPA in 2003.
Scented candles may pose additional health risks. While both fragrance and essential oils are used in candles and are similar in some aspects, there are important differences. Fragrance oils are usually less expensive than essential oils, don't boast therapeutic properties, and contain synthetic ingredients. Candles, for example, are primarily made from fragrance oils. And although there are plenty of organic, eco-friendly EOs on the market, be aware that some with a "natural" label may still contain chemical solvents.
- genetically modified organism: A GMO results from merging the genetic make-up of two organisms to create a desired byproduct that could otherwise not be found in nature.
- paraffin: The final byproduct in the petroleum refining process.r
- volatile organic compounds (VOCs): Organic solvents that easily evaporate into the air. VOCs are emitted by thousands of products, including paints, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials, and furnishings.