Most candle wax is made from paraffin, “a flammable, translucent, waxy solid consisting of a mixture of saturated hydrocarbons, obtained by distillation from petroleum or shale and used in candles, cosmetics, polishes, and sealing and waterproofing compounds.” according to Oxford Languages. Therefore most candles are made from a fossil fuel, a limited resource. Birthday candles will most likely go in the trash if you can’t reuse them, unless you purchased beeswax birthday candles then see below for options.
Paraffin wax should go in the trash per Austin Resource Recovery:
Put this item in your trash cart.
Candle wax is trash but empty candle jars and canisters can be recycled.https://www.austintexas.gov/whatdo
Soy Wax or Palm Wax
More candles are being made from soy and other alternative waxes. Soy is a renewable resource in that it is a crop we can currently grow and harvest. It burns cleaner and healthy for people and the planet.
As of this time, soy wax should also go in the trash cart. You can recycle your clean containers if they are metal or glass.
Beeswax is naturally occurring wax made from bees. It can be more expensive and it is usually uncolored and unscented. If you are able to find cotton wicks in natural beeswax without fragrance you could theoretically compost this wax. However, at this time Austin Resource Recovery is not accepting any type of candle wax as it is difficult to educate consumers on their type of wax. If you have a home compost system, you may want to try composting beeswax.
If your beeswax is uncolored and unscented, or you’ll continue to use the same color, you may have a higher chance of being able to re-melt leftover beeswax into a new candle. So try collecting your used beeswax and melting it into a new candle with a new cotton wick. You can find used crockpots and warmers at thrift and secondhand stores.
Due to fragrance oils, even naturally occurring, it is not recommended that scented candles be composted. Unfortunately, “an estimated 75 to 80 percent of candles sold in the U.S. are scented.” Scent is an aspect to consider when purchasing or gifting candles. You’ve heard of work/life balance. You may want to consider scent/zero waste balance. As someone who is part of a family of scent-sensitive people, I can tell you there are only three scented candle brands that we can use without setting off migraines and allergies: Trader Joe’s, Grove Collaborative/Grove Co. and Goodlight.
Essential oils were first distilled by the Arabs in their golden age. Over time, the use of essential oils became popular in a wide range of fields, including medicine, aromatherapy, cooking, as well as the fragrance industry.
Fragrance oils, on the other hand, were specifically designed to be used in candles, perfumes, soaps, and other scented products. They were engineered to create a nice, long-lasting “scent throw“.
Most DIY candle makers like to use fragrance oils when concocting scented candles, since they’re more user-friendly.
Essential oils are more challenging because they’re more volatile, meaning they have a lower boiling point and evaporate more quickly when exposed to heat. Typically, candles with essential oils don’t retain their scent as long as candles with fragrance oils.https://www.harlemcandlecompany.com/blogs/journal/fragrance-oils-vs-essential-oils-in-candles
Most compost systems will not accept candle wax, but if we ever get to the point where they do, it’s good to be a place where you are purchasing candles made of beeswax or plant-based wax with cotton wicks.
According to the National Candle Association (NCA), “Lead wicks have been officially banned in the United States since 2003, and before then they were primarily limited to inexpensive imported candles. NCA members voluntarily agreed to not use lead wicks in 1974, and long supported the elimination of lead wick use.”
“Metal-core wicks are sometimes used in container candles and votives to keep the wick upright when the surrounding wax liquefies during burning. Today’s metal-core wicks are made with either zinc or tin. Scientific studies have repeatedly shown both zinc and tin-core wicks to be safe and non-toxic.” This would be another reason that candles with metal-core wicks would not be compostable.
Considering I just cleaned out my church’s candle closet and we have no idea how old those candles are, some of them probably have lead wicks.
The Container and Cleaning
I have found nut picks (a metal pick with a slightly curved end) to be the most effective way to break paraffin wax or beeswax out of the bottom of containers. Dull knifes also work well. Soy wax comes out easier and I haven’t had a palm wax candle yet. I use napkins to wipe as much extra wax off the container as I can so I can recycle the empty and clean container. I trash the old wax and the waxy napkins. I’ve also read that freezing the container can help crack the leftover wax out, though that hasn’t done much for me personally that my nut pick can’t take care of.
Above is a finished candle made of soy wax. I was able to wipe everything out using three napkins. Then I recycled the glass jar and trashed the three napkins and metal bit that holds the wick.
This was a Grove Co. “Homemade” Soy Candle. It is one of the few scented candles my family can enjoy without teary eyes, sneezing or migraines.
Battery Operated Candles
I actually really like battery operated candles now. I have reusable batteries that I charge to put in the bottom of the candles. Some of my pillar candles even have real paraffin wax on the outside so they look and feel more real but the shape doesn’t change.
Because battery operated candles use batteries, if they ever stop working you can take them to an electronics recycler like Austin Resource Recovery’s Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center or Goodwill and their contractors will be able to recycle the electronic/battery aspect safely. Because electronics are involved, please take these types of candles to a recycler and do not put them in your trash carts. They could catch on fire mixing with chemicals in the trash truck and catch the truck on fire. My mom spent last Christmas break digging luminary battery-operated tealight candles out of her neighbors trash carts so they trash wouldn’t catch on fire.
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