Tea lights are a cozy addition to your home.
But if you’re trying to live a greener life, you might be concerned about potential emissions and waste.
We’ve done some digging to debunk some common myths about tea lights and explain just how eco-friendly they really are.
1. What Are Tea Lights Made Of?
Tea lights are typically made from wax and a wick and typically sit in a small thin metal or plastic cup.
Not all tea lights are made from the exact same ingredients. The main difference between them is the kind of wax used or whether the wax is scented or dyed.
Paraffin wax seems to be the standard, but soy wax and beeswax are growing in popularity.
The wicks can also vary. They are commonly made from cotton, paper, or twine.
2. Are Tea Lights Bad For The Environment?
Tea lights are not the most destructive thing out there, but they’re far from being good for the environment.
Tea lights have a short life cycle. Most tea lights can only burn for three to five hours.
So, tea lights are essentially a single-use product as you can easily burn through one or two in an afternoon.
Burning tea lights releases some soot and carbon dioxide into the air. In particular, paraffin candles can release toluene and benzene.
Toluene has been linked with damage to plants and aquatic life. Meanwhile, when benzene interacts with other chemicals in the air, it can create smog.
With that said, the amount of these substances being emitted from one tea light is minimal.
3. Are Tea Lights Recyclable?
Some elements of tea lights are recyclable. The leftover wax and the wick are not.
If your tea light comes in a metal or plastic cup, it may be recyclable.
Metal is widely recyclable so long as you have completely removed the wax, wick, and wick holder.
Some flame retardant plastics are recyclable too, but not all plastics are recyclable.
You may need to check the packaging or contact the seller before recycling a plastic tea light cup.
4. Are Tea Lights Reusable?
No, standard tea lights are not reusable.
The candle goes out when too much of the wax has evaporated. The wick also may have burned too far down to light again.
If you’re crafty, you can make your own tea lights by reusing the metal or plastic cup they came in.
5. Are Tea Lights Biodegradable?
Some of the materials in tea lights are biodegradable, but not all.
Pure beeswax, palm wax, other vegetable-based waxes, and even paraffin wax are biodegradable.
Soy wax is also biodegradable and can break down within four to six weeks.
Keep in mind that just because a certain kind of wax is biodegradable, it doesn’t always mean it’s compostable too (more on the difference here).
6. Are Tea Lights Compostable?
Some of the remaining wax may be compostable, but the wick and the tea light cup are generally not.
Some tea lights could be made with a naturally-sourced wick or holder, like natural twine or string, but this is rare.
Soy wax, palm wax, and beeswax are compostable as long as they are in pure form, meaning no dyes or scents were added.
Paraffin wax is not compostable because it is derived from petroleum, and studies have shown its problematic “persistence in the environment”.
7. Are Tea Lights Sustainable?
Tea lights are not particularly sustainable unless you’re purchasing tea lights created to be eco-friendly, i.e. are zero-waste or refillable.
Regular tea lights will only last a few uses before needing to be discarded.
Most tea lights burn for a very short period of time and cannot be reused again. They also emit soot and CO2.
While certain aspects of them may be biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable, it is difficult and time-consuming to separate these elements and discard them appropriately. So most people just throw them in the trash.
8. Are Tea Lights Toxic?
Most tea lights are nontoxic. Many people argue that candles are toxic due to lead wicks and harmful scents, but this is not fully accurate.
The overwhelming majority of candle makers do not use lead wicks anymore due to health and environmental concerns. In fact, lead wicks have even been banned in the US.
There are also concerns about the wax itself emitting toxic chemicals. You may have already noticed that the amount of visible smoke coming from a tealight is negligible.
Studies on candle wax such as paraffin, soy wax, stearin, palm wax, and beeswax discovered that while there were some chemicals released while burning, the level was not nearly enough to have an impact on human health.
If you are concerned, soy candles emit less soot than the likes of paraffin.
The chemicals emitted by scented candles are also minimal and do not pose a threat to human health.
The fragrance can sometimes be derived from synthetic chemicals or essential oils.
Essential oils are non-toxic. However, they are rarely used in tea lights in pure form.
Essential oils can separate from the wax while the tea light is being made or when burning.
As essential oils evaporate quickly, you could soon be left with a candle that does not smell like anything; hence it is not always used to scent tea lights.
9. Are Tea Lights Vegan?
Whether tealights are vegan depends on the type of wax, dye, and fragrance used, if any.
For example, beeswax and stearic acid are not vegan, but plain soy wax, paraffin, and palm wax are.
Some of the fragrances and dyes may have been tested on animals.
If you’re looking for a vegan tea light, opt for something simple, with no fragrance, dye, and minimal ingredients.
A plain soy candle or coconut wax candle should be suitable for vegans.
If in doubt, avoid tea lights that are not clearly marked as vegan.
Remember, a product labeled as cruelty-free could still contain animal products or byproducts.
10. How To Dispose Of Tea Lights Properly
The first thing to do to dispose of tea lights properly is to ensure the remaining wax and wick are not still warm or melted, as this can be a fire hazard.
If you want to recycle your tea lights, ensure the wick, wick holder, and all of the wax has been removed from the cup.
Many people place the tea light in the freezer as the wax is easier to remove in this state.
This metal cup generally is recyclable, so it can go into your recycle bin. If your tealights came in a plastic cup, you will have to check if it is recyclable first.
If the wax is compostable, you can scrap it into your compost bin; otherwise, it will have to go in the trash.
11. Are There Eco-Friendly Alternatives To Tea Lights?
Many candle makers have become aware of the environmental impacts of tealights and have been making greener versions.
This includes refillable tealights, tealights in compostable cups, and those that come without a cup.
You can also opt for battery-powered tea lights, which mimic real tea lights without the emissions.
Not only are these safer, as they create no waste and have a longer shelf-life, but you can take it a step further and opt for rechargeable batteries too.
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