DES 40A Fall 2018
December 3, 2018
The Lifecycle of a Candle: Raw Materials
Candles have been an important item throughout history. For thousands of years, candles have been used around the world to improve everyday life. The first candles were used around 3000 B.C and were made from Tallow, or animal fat (“A Short History of Candles”). As time went on, more civilizations started making candles out of beeswax, tree nuts, or fruits but eventually the use of beeswax became the most well-known candle making process during the 18th Century alongside Tallow (“Types of Candle Wax & Wax Ingredients | NCA”). During the 1800s, a new candle making process was created that involved making candles out of a wax called paraffin. Since candles have been a popular household item for centuries, it is important to understand how they are made and if they have a negative impact on the environment. The candle making process, while seemingly simple, requires many raw materials to create the wax, the wick, the scent and the packaging, making it a much more complex product. Each element includes its own primary and secondary materials, which have the potential to be damaging to the environment.
The basic element of a candle is the wax. Nowadays most candles are made from paraffin wax. The process for making paraffin wax is very complex, and is described in full by D. Minenko from General Wax: “...plants produce a layer of wax on their leaves and stems. Material from dead plants… eventually became buried beneath the surface of the earth. After a long period of time, forces of heat and pressure turned the slowly decaying plant material into crude oil, otherwise known as petroleum….Petroleum companies "harvest" the crude oil and process it. They refine the oil, separating the different properties...The refinery will process the wax into a clean, clear liquid, or as a solid milky white block, and make it available to companies who may have a use for it” (Minenko). The final product of that refinery process results in the creation of paraffin wax. The wax is then used in candles all over the world. The wax also contains carbon and hydrocarbons allowing it to burn yellow and at a certain speed (“Types of Candle Wax”). The process for making this wax is, for the most part, very elaborate and requires a lot of steps to retract the elements involved in its creation. Even though this is a complicated process, it is a product that is in high demand. In the article called “Types of Candle Wax & Wax Ingredients” by the National Candle Association, as quoted above, they explain that, “An estimated 1 billion pounds of wax are used in the candles sold each year in the United States” (NCA). In order to satisfy the demand for candles in the U.S, more and more paraffin wax needs to be created. That is just the numbers for the United States, but many other countries use candles with paraffin wax as well, which most likely greatly increases that number. Candles, while mostly made of wax, also needs a wick in order to light it.
A candle’s wick is another important element in the candle making process. A wick is the string like material that is typically in the center of the candle that allows it to hold a flame. The wick tends to be made out of braided cotton, and as the melted wax travels up the wick, it continues to fuel the flame (Wikipedia, “Candle Wick”). The design of the wick also tends to affect the how the candle works. In the article, “What Is A Candle Wick Made Of?” written by Joseph Kiprop, he explains that, “A wick's features such as; stiffness, diameter, tethering, and fire-resistance will influence the manner in which a flame burns….Braided and knitted wicks are of high quality, and they burn longer than loosely twisted wicks” (Kiprop). The wicks are an essential part of the candle and is one of the more simple materials in the candle making process since it is mostly made of cotton. However, sometimes the wick is dipped into a borax solution and then melted candle wax to keep it from burning too quickly (Wikipedia, “Candle Wick”). Other wicks can be made with a metal center or made of wood, but the most common wick is the one made from braided cotton. While some candles can consist of those two materials, it’s more common for a candle to have a scent and some sort of packaging as well.
The most common packaging for a candle is a glass container; the glass, while considered a raw material, is made up of a lot of secondary materials. In an article called “What Is Glass? | How Is Glass Made?” it explains the process of glass making and what materials from the earth are used to create the glass we tend to use every day: “In a commercial glass plant, sand is mixed with waste glass (from recycling collections), soda ash (sodium carbonate), and limestone (calcium carbonate) and heated in a furnace” (Woodford). The glass making process can be complicated and involves many steps to create the containers that typically hold candles. In order to create a container, these materials need to be melted, then distributed into molds that, when cooled, result in a glass container to hold a candle (“How Glass Is Made? - The Art of Glass Making”). The container sizes and shapes depend on the mold used, meaning some candles require a container that is made of more glass and materials for a bigger mold than others. While not all candles use glass containers, it is one of the most common packaging and should be accounted for in the candle’s lifecycle.
Another common characteristic of a candle is its scent. It is not required for a candle to have a scent, but nowadays, people tend to buy candles specifically for their unique smells. About 80% of candles in the United States are scented candles (“Types of Fragrance Candles & Oils | NCA”). Since candles can have thousands of different scents, it’s almost impossible to explain the process for each one. In an article by Frank Asbury, he explains the logistics of a scented candle, “A typical scented candle may have from 2% to 5% fragrance or more. A paraffin wax structure is great for holding the fragrance and while the surface of the candle may lose scent the interior of a candle will hold the scent for many years and be released when the candle burns” (Asbury). The candle wax keeps the scent fresh for a long time, making it a good investment for consumers. The scents are usually created with a mix of essential oils and synthetic aroma chemicals (“Types of Fragrance Candles & Oils | NCA”). Essential oils come from the plant or the natural source of the scent, but the synthetic aroma chemicals are more complicated. An example of a synthetic aroma chemical is one created by a company called Advanced Biotech. They created a synthetic raspberry scent with the chemical formula of 4-(p-Hydroxyphenyl)-2-Butanone and an Empirical formula of C10H12O2 (Advanced Biotech). The synthetic scents have more secondary materials involved in its creation, meaning it needs more time and energy to create. The combination of both the essential oils and synthetic scents, creates a longer lasting aroma. All of these materials have an effect of the environment but some are more damaging than others.
The elements of a candle each have their own effect on the environment. The wax, since it comes from plants, can have a negative effect on the environment since it isn’t sustainable. Eventually the plants used to create paraffin wax will likely run out. It is important to limit the amount of wax wasted, in order to preserve the materials used to create it. Another aspect of the wax that could be harmful to the environment, and to people is that it could have toxins in it. An article called “No Love for: Paraffin Wax” by the Banyan Tree Gallery explains that, “In 2009, a study by South Carolina State University found that burning paraffin wax candles give off harmful fumes (toluene and benzene) which is linked to asthma and lung cancer…. It is also reported that frequent lighting of multiple paraffin candles in an unventilated space could lead to problems commonly associated with paraffin wax: irritation of skin and respiratory tract” (Banyan Tree Gallery). The side effects of using paraffin wax could potentially harm it’s users as well as the environment around it. It is unclear how much exposure is required to have these side effects, however. More research should be done on the effects of paraffin wax considering over a billion pounds are used each year. The wicks used in candles don’t have a significant impact on the environment since they are mostly constructed of cotton. It most likely releases a small amount of carbon or fumes, but it shouldn’t harm the environment in a way that should cause concern. The glass involved in creating the containers for the candle uses recycled glass to make new glass. This helps limit the amount of glass that is wasted, but doesn’t reuse enough glass to make glass a sustainable primary material. The secondary materials used in the making of glass have the potential to run out eventually. The benefit of using glass is that it can be melted down or recycled and made into something new, reducing the amount of discarded glass. Lastly, the scent used in candles don’t really create a lot of waste since it gets burned off with the wax and the wick. The making of the scent, however, can use a lot of chemicals that could have a long term negative effect when released into the air. Due to the small amount of oils and chemicals infused into one candle, the fumes wouldn’t be strong enough to cause severe damage. Candles aren’t the most environmentally damaging product, but certain materials and processes can be improved to limit the amount of environmental harm.
A candle involves multiple raw materials that contribute to its overall lifecycle. Since almost every home has at least one candle, it’s important to understand its effects on the environment and what materials make up the structure of a candle. Being a more complex product, candles are made up of many more primary and secondary materials than it seems. Knowing what goes into a candle and its packaging, helps determine if candles are harmful to the environment. Candles, while they have the potential to have long term environmental effects, have very little negative repercussions due to the simplicity and recyclable aspects of the product.
ABT (Advanced Biotech). “RASPBERRY KETONE SYNTHETIC 2058.” Advanced Biotech, 2018, www.adv-bio.com/raspberry-ketone-synthetic-2058/.
Asbury, Frank. “How Do Candles Get Their Scent?” Quora, 25 May 2016, www.quora.com/How-do-candles-get-their-scent.
“A Short History of Candles.” Candle History | Millhouse Candles, www.millhousecandles.com/history.php.
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Kiprop, Joseph. “What Is A Candle Wick Made Of?” World Atlas, Worldatlas, 15 May 2018, www.worldatlas.com/articles/what-is-a-candle-wick-made-of.html.
Minenko, D. “Main Waxes Used in Candlemaking. Paraffin and Beewax.” GeneralWax.com, www.generalwax.com/candle-making/about-candle-wax.php.
“Types of Candle Wax & Wax Ingredients | NCA.” National Candle Association, candles.org/elements-of-a-candle/wax/.
“Types of Fragrance Candles & Oils | NCA.” National Candle Association, candles.org/elements-of-a-candle/fragrance/.
Wikipedia. “Candle Wick.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 8 Oct. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candle_wick.
Woodford, Chris. “What Is Glass? | How Is Glass Made?” Explain That Stuff, 29 June 2018, www.explainthatstuff.com/glass.html.