Is Carnauba Wax Sustainable? Interesting Facts (+2 Alternatives)

Savanna Stanfield

Waxes are used in more products besides just candles.

Hardening and gelling agents, polishes, sealants, and even some food products all contain wax. The wax used to make those products has mostly been paraffin.

But as people around the world start to become aware of the negative impacts of paraffin wax, they are looking for more sustainable options.

Enter carnauba wax: a plant-based wax that is more sustainable and eco-friendly than paraffin wax.

But is carnauba wax more sustainable than other natural waxes such as beeswax, coconut wax, and soy wax? Let’s find out in this article.

What Is Carnauba Wax Used For?

Carnauba wax is a hard wax that has a high melting point compared to other types of waxes.

It can be used for making candles, but it usually needs to be mixed with coconut oil to help soften it a little.

With that being said, carnauba wax is not the most popular choice to use in candles. It does, however, have more practical uses.

One of the most common uses for carnauba wax is as a food product.

It can be found in snack foods including M&Ms and Skittles, as well as gummy candies. Carnauba wax is also used as a protective coating on fruits like apples.

Other common products containing carnauba wax are floor, car, and shoe polish.

Lastly, carnauba wax is used as a thickening agent in various beauty and health products including creams and ointments.

Is Carnauba Wax Made Sustainably?

When determining the sustainability of a product, there are a few different aspects we need to look at. 

We say this because the source of a product can be grown sustainably but the actual product itself may not be made sustainably. 

Likewise, a product can be made sustainably but not sourced sustainably. Or, in the best case, it can be sustainable all-around.

Let’s look at the different aspects of carnauba wax individually before we can determine the overall sustainability.

Where Is Carnauba Wax Sourced From?

Carnauba wax actually comes from a carnauba tree. The carnauba tree is a type of palm tree, so technically carnauba wax could be considered a type of palm wax.

However, the carnauba tree is a little different from most types of palm trees used to produce wax.

The first difference is that carnauba wax is sourced primarily from carnauba trees that grow in Brazil, while other trees that produce palm wax are grown primarily in Africa and Asia.

Carnauba trees have also been planted in other parts of South America, Africa, and Asia.

But due to the climate in Brazil, the Brazil carnauba trees are the only ones that produce wax.

Because the primary carnauba wax producing country is Brazil, you may also hear carnauba wax referred to as Brazil Wax.

How Are Carnauba Trees Grown?

Carnauba trees are grown in the open forest areas of Brazil.

The plants are naturally found in the wild, but when grown as a consumer product, larger companies are in charge of growing and harvesting the wax. 

The trees themselves are drought-tolerant, so they don’t necessarily rely on a lot of water to grow them. However, they can also withstand occasional periods of flooding.

But there are a couple of issues with how carnauba trees are grown, especially as demand for carnauba wax increases. 

It could lead to the clearing of land – known as deforestation – to make room for growing more carnauba palms.

Another potential issue is that palm trees like the carnauba are a host for insects called Rhodnius prolixus.

The insects themselves are host to a parasite that transmits a disease known as Chagas disease. Chagas disease can cause sickness in humans, including rash, fever, and body aches.

Although any insects and residue would be removed during refining of the wax, the bugs could still cause disease in the people harvesting and working with the wax before refinement.

That means that in some cases, pesticides may be used to keep these insects away from the trees.

Pesticides rely on heavy chemical use and can contaminate soil, water, and other native plants.

If soil or water supplies become contaminated, it can lead to the land being unusable, and more land may have to be cleared for growing carnauba trees in the future.

Remember that a key aspect of sustainability is that natural resources aren’t depleted in the process. 

But deforestation and pesticide use can all result in the depletion of natural resources.

So growing carnauba palms may not be completely sustainable depending on how the land and trees are managed.

How Is Carnauba Wax Produced?

The trees themselves naturally produce carnauba wax during the dry season in Brazil.

Essentially, they secrete the wax to protect their fronds from water loss.

Each individual frond is around 1 meter in length, and wax is secreted on both the upper surface and underside of the frond.

In September-March, the leaves are harvested from the tree. All of the leaves usually aren’t taken from the tree at once.

And there is no need to cut the tree down after harvesting because the leaves will grow back.

After harvesting, the leaves are left in the sun to dry out, which causes them to shrivel up. Then, the leaves are beaten to remove the wax, which comes off in a powdery form. 

Afterward, the wax has to undergo processing in order to be turned into a form that is usable.

This is done by first melting the powdery wax, then refining it to remove impurities. Usually, the refining is done by boiling water. 

After it is refined, it will cool and harden into wax that is yellow, green, or brown in color.

Depending on what the wax is used for, it is sometimes bleached to turn it white.

So Is It Sustainable?

Since carnauba wax is a plant-based wax, it is more sustainable than certain types of wax such as paraffin. But there are a couple of issues with it. 

Overall, the actual production of carnauba wax seems to be more sustainable than how the carnauba trees are grown. 

This is mainly due to the fact that growing large amounts of trees can lead to negative environmental impacts such as deforestation and depletion of natural resources.

However, if it is any consolation, one tree can produce a large amount of wax.

This is because not all the leaves are harvested at once, and new leaves will grow back to replace the ones that were harvested.

Also, although carnauba wax is the most popular product of carnauba trees, all the parts of the tree can be used.

The wood can be used in construction. The dried leaves can also be used to create thatched roofs or woven into baskets and hats. 

Even the fruits produced by carnauba trees can be used. They are mostly used for animal feed. Each fruit also contains a seed, which can be used as a substitute for coffee beans.

Basically, as long as the growing of carnauba trees is managed consciously, then carnauba wax is more sustainable than other types of wax.

Is Carnauba Wax Sourced Ethically?

Ethically sourced products are just as important as sustainable ones. 

We want to be able to have a clean conscience in knowing that our products are not only better for the environment, but that the people that spend their time working to make the product for us are treated fairly and work under safe conditions.

Unfortunately, carnauba wax is harvested by hand. This is great in terms of keeping it more sustainable because greenhouse gas-emitting machines aren’t used.

However, it’s not so great for the workers who work in Brazil’s hot climate.

Although they don’t have to climb the trees to collect the carnauba fronds, they use a long pole with a saw attached to remove the leaves from the tree.

As you can imagine, this is difficult work which can cause strain on the workers who are already working for very little pay. 

Of course, this raises concerns about how ethical carnauba wax is. That’s why the Initiative For Responsible Carnauba Wax (IRC) was launched in 2018.

The goal of the IRC is to increase the environmental and social sustainability of carnauba wax production. 

Some of their initiatives include supporting companies that produce carnauba to help maintain sustainability, as well as working with the Brazilian Environmental and Labour Industries as reinforcement.

The IRC also developed an action plan that focuses on ethical harvesting and source transparency as well as providing training for workers regarding best practices. 

In order to enter the IRC, carnauba wax suppliers also have to comply with the Ethical BioTrade Standard. 

This includes following the conventions put in place by the International Labour Organisation as well as principles regarding the conservation of natural resources.

Some prominent members of the IRC include Haribo, L’oreal, and Nestle. A full list of participants can be found at the Union For Ethical BioTrade website.

Is Carnauba Wax Eco Friendly?

Whether or not carnauba wax is eco-friendly really just depends on how the carnauba trees it’s sourced from were grown. This may vary by individual company.

When planting more carnauba trees leads to deforestation, which can displace numerous native plant and animal species – and even humans – then carnauba wax is not eco-friendly.

If pesticides are used on the trees, then it also isn’t eco-friendly since the chemicals found in pesticides can pollute soil and water.

When soil and water supplies become polluted, it makes those resources less usable. This can also lead to the death of other native plant species that rely on the soil and water to survive.

It also has an effect on animals and humans too, as contaminated water can lead to sickness or death in these organisms as well.

And just like with deforestation, humans may need to relocate to other areas in order to have healthy and usable water.

The good news is that the way the actual carnauba wax product is made relies on very little chemical use.

And since it comes from a renewable resource, it is more eco-friendly than petroleum-based waxes like paraffin that come from a non-renewable resource.

Is Carnauba Wax A Natural Product?

Since carnauba wax comes from a plant source, it is considered to be a natural product.

However, other additives may be added to the finished product depending on what it is going to be used for.

For example, floor or shoe polishes or beauty products may have other chemical ingredients in them to better serve their purpose. As more chemicals are added to carnauba wax, it becomes less natural.

However, since carnauba wax is used in some food products, there are food-safe versions that contain fewer chemical additives.

Food-safe carnauba wax tends to be more natural than other products made with carnauba wax.

Is Carnauba Wax The Same As Beeswax?

Carnauba wax and beeswax are both sustainable waxes that come from a renewable resource, but they are not the same thing, although they have similar uses. 

Since carnauba wax comes from a palm tree, it is considered to be a type of palm wax. It is also a vegan product.

Beeswax comes from bees. Since it comes from an animal source, it is not considered to be vegan, although it is acceptable as a vegan product by some people.

Is Carnauba Wax a Vegetable Wax?

Vegetable waxes are waxes that come from a plant source.

Since carnauba wax comes from a palm tree, it is considered to be a vegetable wax.

Other examples of vegetable waxes include candelilla, coconut, and soy wax.

Is Carnauba Wax Biodegradable?

Carnauba wax by itself is biodegradable. Biodegradation agents such as bacteria found in the soil will actually biodegrade carnauba wax fairly quickly.

However, you should be careful about letting certain products that contain carnauba wax biodegrade.

If a product contains more chemicals besides just carnauba wax, it could make it harder for organisms to biodegrade it.

And, the chemicals can cause harm to the environment. It’s important to be aware of what a product is made of before you leave it to biodegrade.

Is Carnauba Wax Compostable?

Follow the same general rules here as you would with biodegradation. If the carnauba wax is 100% natural, then it should be safe to compost it.

However, products that contain carnauba wax may not be compostable. It just depends on what the other ingredients are.

Any chemical ingredients can ruin your healthy compost if you aren’t careful about what you put into it.

Is Carnauba Wax Recyclable?

Carnauba wax is not recyclable. Although it is harder than most types of wax and has a high melting point, the melting point is not high enough to stay solidified during recycling.

We know that wax can be sticky and that it can be hard to remove from surfaces.

The same thing is true for recycling it. Wax of any kind can clog up machines and be hard to clean from them.

This can break the machines and result in them having to be fixed or replaced altogether, so it is not a good idea to try to recycle wax.

Is Carnauba Wax Better Than Beeswax?

Despite being a vegan product, carnauba wax is not better than beeswax.

Beeswax is more sustainable and eco-friendly than most other types of wax.

And, beeswax can be locally sourced in most places. It doesn’t require the need for importing and exporting it to other places. 

Since a product such as carnauba wax is made exclusively in one place – Brazil – it has to be transported to other places, sometimes across very long distances. 

This causes more energy to be used and emits greenhouse gases, a main contributor to the climate crisis.

And if you’re looking to make your own candles or beauty products, then beeswax is a better choice as well because it doesn’t have to be mixed with other things to soften it.

Is Carnauba Wax Better Than Soy Wax?

In general, the answer is yes. Carnauba wax is better than soy wax, especially if pesticides aren’t used.

Yes, carnauba trees contribute to some deforestation, but it is nowhere near the level of deforestation that occurs with soybeans – the source of soy wax.

This is because the carnauba trees that produce carnauba wax are only grown in certain areas of Brazil. Soybeans are grown all over the world and are a much larger industry than carnauba wax.

There are also more pests and diseases that affect soybeans, so pesticide and fungicide use on soybeans are also very heavy.

So if you are having to choose between a product that contains carnauba wax or one that contains soy wax, then carnauba wax is the more sustainable choice.

Is Carnauba Wax Toxic?

Carnauba wax itself is not toxic and safe to use, which is why it is approved as an ingredient in beauty and food products. 

As a matter of fact, one study found no evidence of general toxicity in carnauba wax. It also found that under current authorized food uses, there are no safety concerns.

2 Sustainable Alternatives To Carnauba Wax

Overall, carnauba wax seems to be pretty sustainable especially compared to paraffin wax and even plant-based soy wax.

But there are two other waxes that have been proven to be more sustainable.

1. Beeswax

When it comes to waxes that are sustainable and eco-friendly, then beeswax is the all-around best choice.

Beeswax is a natural product that has a wide range of uses, and it doesn’t contribute to deforestation or require the use of pesticides.

2. Coconut Wax

Coconut wax is also a great sustainable option, second only to beeswax.

While growing coconuts does contribute to some deforestation, they are grown without the use of pesticides. And, coconut wax is vegan.

Conclusion 

Carnauba wax is a great sustainable choice that can be found in many products.

Although there have been some concerns about deforestation and ethical treatment of workers, new organizations are being formed to try to combat these concerns and make carnauba wax one of the most sustainable wax types.

Supporting companies that are part of these organizations is a great way to do your part to aid in ensuring that the way carnauba trees are grown and the wax is produced remains sustainable.

And as always, continue to raise awareness for the need for more sustainable and eco-friendly products so that we can keep the planet safe and healthy.

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