Is Sealing Wax Bad For The Environment? (What You Should Know)

Savanna Stanfield

Have you ever seen someone close an envelope, package, or document and then seal it with a fancy stamp?

That fancy stamp is made from sealing wax, which is used to both verify the identity of the sender and as security to show whether or not the letter has been tampered with.

Sealing wax comes in many different colors, and interestingly enough, different colored waxes were meant to express different sentiments, for example:

  • Red for business
  • Black for obituaries/mourning
  • White for weddings

There’s no denying that closing your letters and documents with sealing wax can add beauty, personalization, and a bit of a vintage touch.

But despite all of the great things about sealing wax, how does it affect the environment both pre- and post- use?

This is a tricky question to answer because it depends on the type of sealing wax and the ingredients used to make it.

To better determine whether or not sealing wax is bad for the environment, we’ll explore several questions in this article regarding how it is made and how you can dispose of it in order to determine its overall eco-friendliness.

What Is Sealing Wax Made Of?

When sealing wax was first used during medieval times, it was made out of beeswax, turpentine, and natural coloring pigments.

Today, there are actually two different types of sealing wax – traditional and flexible.

Traditional sealing wax is generally made from shellac or paraffin wax and coloring pigments, whereas flexible sealing wax is made from the same ingredients with resin added to it.

Shellac is favored due to the way it hardens to an effective seal without leaving behind a greasy and oily residue.

The problem with traditional sealing wax is that although it hardens more than flexible wax, it isn’t as practical anymore for actually mailing letters.

Synthetic resin was added to the mixture to make flexible sealing wax, which has more practical uses. But synthetic ingredients do affect the eco-friendliness of the wax.

Is Sealing Wax Eco Friendly?

There’s not really a straightforward answer here. Whether or not sealing wax is eco-friendly just depends on the brand and the ingredients used to make it.

The good news is that most types of wax in general are eco-friendly because they come from plant or animal sources. 

Paraffin wax – which is a by-product of crude oil – is really the only type of wax that isn’t eco-friendly.

While some sealing waxes are made from paraffin, there are also a lot of them that are  made with more natural ingredients which means that they are more eco-friendly.

The main questions that need to be asked regarding the eco-friendliness of the ingredients used to make sealing wax are:

  • Is it made up of any synthetic ingredients?
  • What type of dye was used to pigment it?

As an example, the flexible wax mentioned earlier typically has resin mixed in. Most resins aren’t eco-friendly.

And since sealing wax is partly used for decorative purposes, no one wants it to be plain and uncolorful, meaning that dye is usually added.

The source of the dye also determines eco-friendliness, as some dyes can be made with synthetic ingredients while others are made with natural ingredients.

Unfortunately, you can’t really generalize the type of wax and dye that most sealing wax is made of because it varies by brand. 

The best thing you can do to determine if a particular type of sealing wax is eco-friendly is scrutinize the ingredients list or look for an indication on the packaging that says it is eco-friendly.

Is Sealing Wax A Natural Product?

One of the main ingredients in most modern sealing wax is shellac, which is a resin produced by the lac beetle.

Lac beetles mostly live in India and Thailand and secrete this resin onto the branches of trees, where it is collected to use for various products.

The natural form of this resin is known simply as lac. The term shellac actually refers to the processed lac resin.

Remember that some types of sealing wax are made up of synthetic materials in addition to shellac.

Even synthetic materials are derived from natural products. For example, paraffin wax comes from crude oil, which is found naturally.

So you could say that sealing wax is made up of ingredients derived from natural sources, but as a whole sealing wax may not be 100% natural.

It just depends on the amount of synthetic ingredients it contains.

Is Sealing Wax The Same As Candle Wax?

Sealing wax and candle wax are not the same thing. 

Candle wax refers to any kind of wax that can be used to make candles including paraffin, soy, palm, and beeswax.

But shellac usually isn’t used for candle-making because it hardens more and can turn brittle.

In addition, candle wax and sealing wax have different purposes, so the ingredients and properties of each are different in order to meet these purposes effectively.

Is Sealing Wax Biodegradable?

The original medieval versions of sealing wax would have been biodegradable because they were made of all natural products.

But whether or not modern sealing wax is biodegradable depends on what it is made of and the brand that you purchase.

If it is made only of shellac and natural dyes, then it is biodegradable. But if it is made from paraffin wax or has anything synthetic in it, then it won’t biodegrade (or take years to do so).

We can’t say whether or not all sealing wax is biodegradable because it just depends on how a particular brand makes it.

However, most companies will note on the packaging whether or not their products are biodegradable. 

So unless it specifically says that a particular sealing wax is all-natural and biodegradable, it is best to assume that it isn’t.

Is Sealing Wax Compostable?

Again, it just depends on the particular brand of sealing wax.

If something is biodegradable, it tends to be compostable as well, whereas something that is not biodegradable is definitely not compostable either.

So just pay close attention to the ingredients and whether or not the packaging says that it is safe to biodegrade.

Is Sealing Wax Recyclable?

Wax products of any kind are not recyclable, sealing wax included.

Even though sealing wax usually hardens, it will still need to be melted down in order to recycle it.

Melted wax tends to have sticky consistency, so recycling wax of any kind can gum up the machines needed for proper recycling.

But although you can’t recycle wax seals, a lot of sealing waxes can be re-melted at home and use it again.

Is Sealing Wax Toxic?

This is an interesting question because although medieval versions of sealing wax were made with all natural ingredients, they could have been considered toxic because they contained turpentine.

If you didn’t know, turpentine is a natural resin that typically comes from pine trees. Today, it is used for thinning and removing paints, and has industrial uses as well. 

But no matter what it is used for, it is on the hazardous materials list because it can cause irritation to various parts of the body upon overexposure.

It just goes to show that not all natural products are non-toxic.

The good news is that modern sealing wax no longer contains turpentine and there is no evidence that says that it is toxic to humans. 

But, of course you should be careful if sealing wax contains synthetic ingredients because these ingredients could be potentially harmful to the environment. 

What Is Sealing Wax Used For?

The original use for sealing wax was to seal letters and other documents so that it was evident as to whether or not they had been tampered with. 

We mentioned earlier that the different colored seals could convey different messages as well and showed a level of personalization so that the recipient knew who the sender was.

Today, sealing wax is still used to seal letters and documents- particularly wedding invitations- although some people use them for any type of personal letter. 

Instead of being reserved for certain types of correspondence, the wax color is usually chosen to match the theme of the wedding or the sender’s favorite color. 

But the creation of the mail system and the sometimes careless handling of mail meant that changes had to be made as far as what sealing wax was made of.

Since invitations and letters are mostly mailed today, original and more traditional versions of sealing wax tend to be too brittle and don’t hold up as well through the mail.

That’s why synthetic materials started to be added to make the seal more durable and flexible to ensure that it would remain intact while the letter was being mailed.

Is Sealing Wax Vegan?

If sealing wax is made from shellac, then it is not vegan since shellac is sourced from beetles.

Although the beetles themselves aren’t harmed during collection of the lac resin, shellac-based sealing wax is still partially an animal product. 

There may be sealing wax options out there that are vegan – for example, made from paraffin wax – but they may not be eco-friendly.

Which Is the Most Sustainable Sealing Wax?

As long as sealing wax is made of shellac, it is pretty sustainable.

But sealing wax made from paraffin or other synthetic ingredients lowers the sustainability of sealing wax.

Another very sustainable type of wax is beeswax.

While beeswax was the original wax source for making sealing wax, there aren’t many companies that sell beeswax-based sealing wax today. Most beeswax sealing wax is homemade.

That means that you can buy some beeswax and make your own at home as well!

A quick internet search will give you plenty of recipes that you can try in order to create a sealing wax that is sustainable and that you can customize to your color preference.

Conclusion 

The bottom line is that whether or not sealing wax is good or bad for the environment depends on what it is made of.

Sealing waxes made from paraffin wax or other synthetic ingredients and dyes are bad for the environment, but sealing waxes made from shellac, beeswax and other natural ingredients are better for the environment.

If you use sealing wax and want to make sure that you’re helping the environment as well, check the ingredients and packaging of the wax you intend to purchase to make sure that it is made from natural ingredients and is biodegradable.

Old products that have been used for centuries can always be made better, and sealing wax is not immune to undergoing changes to the formula in order to make it a more eco-friendly and sustainable product.

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