Is Wax Biodegradable? Important Facts You Should Know (Explained)

Savanna Stanfield

Wax has many uses including candles, cooking, shoe and furniture polish, beauty products, sealants and coatings, and more.

The term wax doesn’t just refer to one specific type. There are different types of waxes with their own unique uses.

But when you no longer have use for your wax products, how should you dispose of them? Is it safe to let wax biodegrade?

The answer is that most waxes that come from animals or plants are biodegradable. 

But some waxes come from the crude oil refining process and shouldn’t be considered biodegradable.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the biodegradability of different types of wax.

Is Wax Biodegradable?

Theoretically, yes, since most wax comes from natural sources, it is biodegradable.

However, that doesn’t mean that all types of wax are necessarily safe to biodegrade or that they biodegrade in the same amount of time.

If wax isn’t safe to biodegrade or takes a long time to biodegrade, we can consider them to be non-biodegradable.

Waxes can be either animal, plant, or petroleum-based. The source of the wax determines how biodegradable it is.

For example, beeswax comes from an animal source and is one of the best natural waxes for beauty products. It is organic and 100% safe to biodegrade.

Lanolin is also another type of animal-based wax that comes from sheep and other wool-producing animals. It can also biodegrade safely.

Plant-based waxes include candelilla, coconut, palm, and soy wax. These are also 100% biodegradable in their natural form.

Paraffin wax is another type of natural wax, but it is a petroleum-based wax that can contain harmful chemicals like formaldehyde and parabens depending on what it is used for.

Although the wax itself may eventually biodegrade, it can release these chemicals into the environment so it can’t be considered biodegradable.

Also, one of the most common uses for paraffin wax besides candles is in petroleum jelly, which is not biodegradable due to extra chemicals that are added to make the jelly and the time it takes to break it down.

Another type of petroleum-based wax is known as microcrystalline wax

Like paraffin wax, it is also a by-product of crude oil, but the difference is that most of the oil is removed from microcrystalline wax during refining.

Microcrystalline wax may be safer to biodegrade than paraffin wax, but it still contains a small amount of crude oil. It can also take a long time to biodegrade.

Adding chemical dyes and fragrances can also make wax less safe to biodegrade. 

Natural wax with natural dyes and fragrances are the safest for the environment when they biodegrade.

How Long Does It Take For Wax To Biodegrade?

Just as wax varies in how safe it is to biodegrade, it also varies in the time it takes to biodegrade.

Wax can biodegrade in as little as 2 months or less, especially wax paper

But wax that is a result of crude oil refining (such as paraffin and microcrystalline wax) can take years to biodegrade, which is one reason why it isn’t considered to be biodegradable.

It’s also important to consider the size of the chunk of wax that you’re disposing of.

One reason that wax paper biodegrades so quickly (even if made from paraffin wax) is due to the fact that it is very thin.

Larger amounts of wax such as candles can take longer to fully biodegrade.

Basically, it is hard to give a specific timeline for the amount of time it takes for wax to biodegrade because it depends on the type and quantity of wax.

Under Which Conditions Does Wax Biodegrade?

Some of the factors that affect biodegradation include:

  • water
  • temperature
  • availability of oxygen
  • soil characteristics
  • microorganisms.

But the rate of biodegradation also varies depending on the type of material.

Researchers have actively been looking for solutions to make petroleum-based waxes biodegrade faster for a long time.

Some of those approaches focus on using special strains of bacteria, while others try their luck with certain fungi.

In any case, it’s safe to say that those highly specialized lab conditions utilized by researchers are virtually never present in nature.

That’s why the natural process of paraffin biodegradation is much slower – if it happens at all.

Another thing about wax is that water will not cause it to break down. This is because wax is not soluble in water due to being made up of lipids.

Lipids are hydrophobic, which means that they naturally repel water. So basically, water has very little effect on the biodegradation rate of wax.

Another unique characteristic of wax is its melting point. While exact melting points vary by type of wax, the average melting point temperature is about 70 degrees Celsius.

It is entirely possible that the heat in some climates can cause wax to melt a little, although it may or may not melt completely.

Melted wax can seep into the soil where it can be broken down by microorganisms or it can evaporate into the air.

So if you live in a warmer climate, it’s very likely that wax will biodegrade faster than it would in a colder climate.

The types of microorganisms found in soil also affect biodegradation rates, but these organisms may vary based on location and soil health.

Are All Types Of Wax Equally Biodegradable?

No, all types of wax are not equally biodegradable.

Animal and plant-based waxes such as beeswax and soy wax are more and faster biodegradable than petroleum-based waxes like paraffin wax.

But that doesn’t mean that paraffin wax products aren’t biodegradable at all. It just takes longer and depends on other ingredients that are added as well.

Are All Wax Products Biodegradable?

Only products that are all-natural and made from non-toxic ingredients should be biodegraded.

This includes products made of beeswax, candelilla wax, soy wax, coconut wax, or other animal and plant-based waxes.

Some products made with paraffin wax may or may not be biodegradable. 

For example, some wax papers are made from paraffin wax, but are biodegradable. But petroleum jelly is also made from paraffin wax and is not biodegradable.

The bottom line is that if you aren’t entirely sure what type of wax something is made of, it’s better to be safe and not let it biodegrade.

Is Wax Compostable?

Wax is compostable, but only under the same conditions as biodegradation.

That means that natural waxes from plant or animal sources are more compostable than petroleum-based waxes.

For specific wax products, check the ingredient label for other ingredients or added chemicals before you compost it.

And again, if you aren’t sure, it is better not to compost it.

Is Wax Eco Friendly?

Whether or not wax is eco-friendly just depends on the type of wax. 

Animal and plant-based waxes are more eco-friendly than paraffin and microcrystalline wax. 

Remember that waxes such as paraffin and microcrystalline come from crude oil, which is a non-renewable resource

Collecting crude oil is not sustainable and can cause harm to ecosystems as well as air and water pollution.

Plant and animal-based waxes are more eco-friendly because they are sustainable and come from natural resources that are renewable.

However, not all plant and animal-based waxes are at the same level of eco-friendliness and sustainability.

For example soy wax, which comes from soybeans, creates controversy regarding eco-friendliness because of deforestation and using pesticides to grow soybeans.

On the other hand, beeswax is one of the most eco-friendly types of wax that can also neutralize toxins in the air, but it is not vegan so some people prefer other types of natural wax.

Is Wax A Natural Resource?

Wax isn’t necessarily a natural resource in itself, but it does come from natural resources.

Plants, animals, and even crude oil are all natural resources that wax is harvested from. The difference lies in the type of natural resource that the wax comes from.

Plants and animals are renewable natural resources, which means that they can be replenished to replace what was used.

Crude oil is a non-renewable resource, which means that it can not be replenished. Once it has been used, it is gone.

Being made from renewable versus non-renewable resources is one of the defining factors as to whether or not wax is eco-friendly.

Is Wax Sustainable?

Wax may or may not be sustainable depending on the source of it.

We’ve already touched on this a little, but paraffin wax and microcrystalline wax are not sustainable because they come from crude oil.

But a wax doesn’t have to be made from crude oil to not be sustainable.

Even plant-based waxes can be unsustainable depending on how the plants are grown. We used soybeans as an example of this.

Deforestation to make room to grow more soybeans definitely isn’t a sustainable production method.

Using pesticides on plants isn’t sustainable either, due to the environmental harm that the chemicals found in pesticides can cause.

For the most sustainable waxes, try beeswax or coconut wax.

Is Wax Toxic?

Most wax is not toxic by itself, especially plant and animal-based waxes. 

Since paraffin wax is a by-product of crude oil, it is more toxic than other types of wax.

This is due to the fact that paraffin wax can release soot when burned that is thought to be carcinogenic (meaning that it could cause cancer).

However, that would be in the case of paraffin wax being used for candles. As a synthetic wax used for beauty products, paraffin is thought to be low-risk in terms of toxicity.

In the case of wax paper, the type of paraffin wax used is said to be food-safe. That means that it won’t release toxins into your food.

So in general, most types of wax cause low risk to both humans and the environment where toxins are concerned.

However, it is possible that some chemical dyes and fragrances used in wax products can cause skin and respiratory irritation, especially in a person with allergies.

It is best to look for wax products made with natural wax as well as essential oils or other natural fragrances and dyes.

Can Wax Be Recycled?

Wax can’t be recycled, especially in the use of candles and beauty products. This is due to wax being sticky and glue-like.

But, in the case of candles, you can reuse leftover wax to make wax melt cubes or air fresheners by scooping the wax out with a spoon.

If you want to make wax melts, you can then melt the wax in a microwave and pour the melted wax into an ice cube tray.

After the wax has hardened, pop them out and use them in your wax warmer.

For an air freshener, place the wax pieces into a piece of an old pair of pantyhose (a great way to reuse those as well), tie them off, and place them in a closet, drawer, or your gym bag.

You can then recycle the candle container that you scooped the wax out of.

How To Dispose Of Wax Properly

If you can’t reuse candle wax or you have other wax products, the best thing to do is just throw it away. 

If the container that the wax came in can be recycled, then scoop the wax out into the trash and dispose of it with your regular garbage.

Then, just recycle the container with your other recyclables.

If it is bee wax or other natural wax, you could also compost it in your garden.

How Can I Recognize Eco-Friendly Wax?

If you’re looking for eco-friendly wax products, it is best to avoid any products that contain paraffin or microcrystalline wax as these are not eco-friendly.

Instead, look for products that have an animal or plant-based wax source on the ingredients label, depending on whether or not you prefer vegan products.

Beeswax is a very commonly used natural wax and can be found in many beauty products, soap, and even crayons. 

Lanolin is another type of animal-based wax that is used mainly for skin care products and conditioning leather.

If you prefer a vegan option, then technically petroleum-based waxes are vegan but they aren’t eco-friendly. You will want to choose a plant-based wax product instead.

Candelilla wax comes from a shrub and is used for beauty products, polishes, and adhesives. Coconut or carnauba wax are also great plant-based, vegan, and eco-friendly choices.

Be careful about soy wax, however, because it may or may not be eco-friendly. It just depends on how the soybeans were grown.

Soy wax is the most commonly used alternative to paraffin wax in candles, but there are concerns about how sustainable it is.

For the best eco-friendly option, look for products that state that the soy was grown organically and sustainably.

Conclusion

Wax is generally pretty biodegradable, especially when it comes to wax that comes from a renewable resource.

But there are many types of wax, so it is important to know where it comes from.

If the wax comes from plants or animals, it will biodegrade fairly quickly and safely.

Paraffin wax may or may not be biodegradable, depending on its chemical composition and what it is used for, and it can sometimes release chemicals into the environment or take a long time to biodegrade.

Basically, the more natural and eco-friendly wax is, then the more biodegradable it is.

Luckily, there are plenty of products out there that are made from eco-friendly wax and other ingredients.

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