Lighting the way to sustainability
Eco-friendly candles are better for the environment and your health
Pam Funk found herself in a moral quandary when she realized the candles she sold at her Fir Street Gallery in Paradise weren’t nearly as eco-friendly as one of her best-selling items.
Funk was waxing nostalgic.
“The oil-based candles I was selling leave black residue on walls, and therefore in people’s lungs,” she said.
She made the revelation when comparing the candles to the Berger Lamp, also referred to as the Lampe Berger, which was popular in France prior to World War I. The lamps not only removed unpleasant smells, but also provided a method of removing toxins from the air. In those days, they were used in hospitals and morgues.
Funk began selling the lamps about five years ago at her gift and art boutique on the Skyway, and recalled how she displayed them near a wide array of candles. It quickly dawned on her that the candle inventory was composed of products containing ingredients that are harmful to indoor air quality.
“I felt terrible,” she said. “Here I am selling these lamps to clean the air and candles that pollute the air, all at once in the same room.”
Petroleum-based candles are a pollutant and, furthermore, rely on the need for foreign oil in order to produce them. Candles containing renewable fuel sources, such as vegetable wax and tallow, burn with reduced emissions, according to the National Candle Association.
Funk immediately made the switch to soy candles, one of the most popular environmentally friendly candles on the market.
Soybeans are a renewable and versatile product. Soy can be found in skin-care products, hair products, crayons, paint removers and cleaning products. More than 350,000 domestic farms grow soybeans, making the United States the producer of more than 50 percent of the world’s soybean yield, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Soy wax is an alternative to paraffin wax, which is a colorless or white hard wax consisting of a mixture of solid straight-chain hydrocarbons. It is obtained from petroleum by dewaxing light lubricating oil stocks.
Paraffin is used in candles, wax paper, polishes, cosmetics and electrical insulators. Candles made with it may contain up to 11 carcinogenic compounds, deemed “toxic air contaminants” by the California Department of Health. Paraffin-based candles also contain microcrystalline wax, as well as other petroleum-based chemicals.
In the United States, the ingredients in candles are regulated. But the same restrictions are not placed on imported products, which often contain wicks with lead, as well as any number of toxic additives.
Angela Cook, owner of Ziva Yoga Essentials in downtown Chico, feels strongly about selling goods that are as green as possible. She carries soy and palm wax, and food-grade paraffin candles in her shop. None of the products have wicks containing lead.
Cook purchases some of her candles from Nirvana, a Santa Cruz-based company that reuses 100 percent of its leftover scrap wax and supports local and national charities. She says the candles are actually less expensive than petroleum-based products because the burn time is so much longer.
“One of these little cubes,” she pointed out, “will burn for about 20 hours, and that’s quite a bargain for $2.50.”
Ultimately, Cook would like to buy her candles from a local vendor, a thought echoed by a number of Chico business owners and managers.
Thad Winzenz from Bird in Hand says he’s watched consumers shift to soy, palm oil and beeswax candles with the increasing interest in renewable resources. A majority of the products at the downtown Chico gift store, and other shops in the area, come from vendors in the Midwest.
However, Winzenz said he also sells beeswax candles made in Sonoma.
Good old beeswax, which, in addition to tallow, has been used to produce candles for hundreds of years, is the other alternative to paraffin.
Locally, candle maker Erin Hull can barely keep up with the demand for beeswax candles.
She makes them for Bordin-Huitt Ranch, a Chico-based beekeeper and almond grower. The candle-making process requires a centrifuge to separate the wax from the honey. Hull then uses an ax to chop up the large chunks into pieces small enough to melt and pour into molds. She started the craft about seven years ago and now creates about 100 different styles.
Hull has watched demand for the candles increase, along with the community’s desire for natural products. She sells them at Chico’s Saturday farmers market at Second and Wall streets, the downtown Thursday Night Market, and the seasonal farmers markets in Oroville and Paradise.
She says soy candles scented with essential oils can sometimes prove too fragrant or heavily perfumed, whereas beeswax has no added fragrance and burns slightly longer. Her products also give off a negative ion that’s a mood enhancer and produces a good feeling, she explained. Made with 100 percent cotton wicks, the candles are completely natural.
The creations reflect her life philosophy.
“It’s simple,” she said. “I like things simple and natural.”