When I wrote about Earth Hour, I mentioned turning out the lights and using candles for an hour. I have to confess that I took it as given that burning candles must be better. But how good is it to be using candles? All I could have really tell you before writing this post is that a candle is made up of a wax and a wick. I didn’t know where the wax came from, what the wick was made of, and what sort of emissions burning a candle can give off, if any.
So I did some research online, and looked at some candles for sale, and it appears that most candles are made from paraffin wax. They can also be made from more natural materials such as beeswax, soy, other plant waxes and tallow.
Throughout history, all over the world, candles were traditionally made from tallow (animal fat) and wicks made from natural materials such as rushes. But since the 1850s candles have been generally made from paraffin wax, which is derived from petroleum, coal or shale. During my research I found conflicting views as to whether burning candles emit many emissions and whether they are harmful. After doing some reading*, I think my view is that because when I burn candles I don’t tend to burn many at once or for very long, their impact shouldn’t be very high. I think it depends how much you use them and what they are made from.
But whether or not they contribute much to your emissions, I still think it’s disturbing that this is what candles are made from. To be honest, I’ve never actually bought myself a candle but I have been given many as gifts. But I would still like to know: what about alternatives?
100% beeswax or soy candles (check whether the soy is GM if that’s something that bothers you) seem to be best, or those made from natural vegetable wax. They are natural (check what the wick is made from too) and are unlikely to cause allergies or emit hazardous chemicals the way paraffin candles do. A good rule of thumb is to check what the candle and wick are made from and whether any synthetic fragrances are contained in them. I found this article, ‘Are Soy and Natural Candles Really Natural?’, really useful for how you work out if a candle really is all natural or not.
I can’t believe I’d never thought to investigate this before. It just shows how far I still have to go on my journey to go green! What do you think? Do you burn candles often? Or maybe you make your own? Do you think paraffin candles can have an impact on your health?
*If you want to read more about this, you could start with articles such as Candles Are Ten Times Worse for the Environment Than Bulbs or Particle Emissions From Candles Are No Health Hazard, both of which I came across during my own research.