Why We Don't Use Soy Wax

It’s amazing nowadays to see homes insulated with recycled plastics, recycled glass bottles and bags comprised of recycled paper. When re-using our waste is so important to maintaining a healthy environment, would it not make sense then to make our candles by re-using oils? 

As candle makers we often get asked about the waxes we use. Consumers are more conscious these days which is great. Soy wax is definitely on trend right now; it’s marketed as a sustainable, renewable resource, un-reliant on fossil fuels. We don’t use soy wax right now and we’d like to tell you why.

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TLDR: Put simply, there’s a lot to take into consideration with the ethics between resources, a lot more than just what they’re made from. We want to highlight the importance of constantly questioning things. If you're buying anything for its Eco-credentials, you should see what information the supplier provides. Simply saying Eco-friendly isn't enough, neither is assuming something is just because at the very basic level, it's derived from a plant.

  • Just saying 'Eco-friendly' doesn't make a product Eco-friendly. It's much more complex than that.
  • While a soy plant is a natural product, soy wax is not. The plant is grown, then distributed, then processed - to be burnt as wax.
  • We believe that if we were to use soy wax currently, it would have more of a negative global impact than positive environmental benefit. 
  • We use recycled waste to have as little negative impact on our environment and economy as possible, as we believe every non-essential product should.
  • The phrase 100% soy wax can be misleading. A candle using soy wax is processed (like other candles) and can have additives (like other candles) to make it burn.
  • There's no significant, scientifically backed evidence to prove that soy wax is in any way less harmful, or cleaner burning than other wax types.
  • Soy grown on an industrial scale has a multitude of negative environmental and socio-economic impacts. Just being a plant doesn't make it Eco-friendly.
A young lady wearing a brown hat peering over a big green leaf.

Look Behind the Buzzwords

It’s easy to jump on the wagon with Eco-friendly buzzwords, but what do they really mean?

The impact of using the same resource supplied from one source may be entirely different if you procured it from somewhere else.

The processes by which it’s harvested and made can be different and the distance to which it travels has to be considered too.

  • A product and the material it’s made from are different things and the journey from how one has arrived to the other can be complex.
  • Natural and organic are two different things, so are soy and soy wax.

Try not to accept sweeping statements such as ‘it’s great for agriculture’ or ‘it’s a renewable resource’ if they’re not followed up by evidence. Try to collect a variety of opinions and also think of the motives behind them. Most importantly, remember process and evidence is always changing.

What's Soy Used For?

You use a lot more soy than you imagine from day to day.

Lecithin, a soy derivative, is widely used in processed food. Your beef burger is most likely raised on soy and soy additives are in many foods. The WFF has an in depth report on the growth of soy use and impacts- check it out. They also have a shorter interactive guide here.

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Some of Soy's Many Uses

Soya bean, soybean or Glycine max, is a species of legume originating from East Asia. It’s grown and used for a variety of things, but mainly its bean, which has a variety of uses including:

  • Human food (tofu, soy sauce, oil – which has a variety of uses, including packaging food). 
  • Animal Feed – after oil is removed high-protein fibre is left. It’s used widely to feed livestock, poultry, pets and increasingly fish. 
  • Biodiesel.
  • Biocomposites – a material formed by a matrix (resin) and a reinforcement of natural fibers. Soy is included in some wood adhesives, carpets and more.
  • Soy ink.
  • Soy based lubricants.
  • Soy based foams –developed for coolers, refrigerators, car interiors and more. 
  • Soy wax (we’ll talk more about this later!).
Lots of trees on top of rolling hills in a rainforest.

The Soy Market

Soy production has grown tenfold in the last 50 years, fuelled by its high yield per area, variety of uses and easily marketable environmental benefits. It’s estimated the total area of soy now covers the combined area of France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Europe (where we're based) imports around 35x more soy than it produces. This soy demand equates to around 15mil ha of land, 13 million of which is in South America. For comparison, this area is equivalent to 90% of all the agricultural area of Germany, just for soy. 

Several things have assisted soy's popularity as a resource:

  • European agricultural policy makes tariffs on animal feed low, making soy meal relatively cheap to import. 
  • The ban on processed animal proteins has highlighted soy as an alternative.
  • The growth of aquaculture has increased demand for soy based fish feed.
  • The growth of the biofuel market has increased demand of soy for biodiesel.
  • Reduced restrictions on trade after the formation of the World Trade Organisation has made soy cheaper to import.
  • Soy producers, users and vendors have been largely un-reigned in marketing the environmental, ethical and ecological benefits of soy, often on an unfounded basis.

At the moment soy is a capitalists dream. Production is increasing and demand is growing, it’s a huge industry with some pretty massive players.There’s a problem here though right? The demand for soy is growing, we need more land to grow it and workers to farm it and we need to get it from where it’s grown to where it’s used. 

Impacts of Global Soy Production

Deforestation, Land & Habitat Loss

We need somewhere to grow all this soy and Europe isn’t facilitating it all yet. The largest expansion of soy production has been in South America and it’s already contributed to deforestation and change in many important habitats such as the Amazon and Cerrado. Much of this land is incredibly biologically diverse – it’s home to a great array of animals and habitat compositions. Biological diversity is extremely important for a variety of reasons, not just for its own sake, but also for larger global issues such as climate change, resource regulation, soil health and more.

A Brazilian moratorium on growing soy in land cleared from Amazon forest has helped reduce this, but other habitats such as the Cerrado haven’t seen the same attention, it’s lost around half of its natural vegetation since the 1950’s a large part of this due to soy expansion.

Other areas at risk include the Atlantic Forest, the Chiquitano Dry Forest, the Gran Chaco, the Pampas in Argentina, the North American prairies and the Uruguayan Campos.

Let’s not forget that when we cut this forest down, we’re destroying not only some of the most unique habitats in the world and all the services that they provide, but also the homes of everything that lives in them.

Carbon Capture & Sequestration

Carbon sequestration is a natural or artificial process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and held in solid or liquid form. Trees sequester carbon, as does the sea. They're a substantial part of why some of the effects of climate change aren't as prominent as they could be yet.

Removing forest - comprised largely of mature trees, releases more carbon back intro the ecosystem and replaces it with young generation soy plants who's ability to capture and hold carbon is a lot less. This is what happens when trees are cut down to plant soy.

Modern Farming & Agrochemicals

Fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are used more and more in modern farming and are of large environmental concern. They can impact water quality, contaminate soil and reduce biodiversity. They can also be detrimental to human health. One study tested 62 samples of breast milk in Mato Grosso, Brazil, finding traces of one or more toxic agrochemicals in every sample. Some estimates suggest that 35% of all pesticides used in Brazil are for soy farming. (The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics)

Soil Erosion

Studies of soy production in the Brazlian Cerrado found an annual loss from soil erosion of 8 tonnes per hectare of soil, with some areas as high as 19-30 tonnes. Soil erosion can lead to a loss of organic matter and nutrients form an area, reduce water quality and increase the problems of compaction and acidification. More sensitive farming methods can reduce soil erosion, but these practises aren’t used everywhere. The growth in soy demand has encouraged some farmers to plant in more erodible soils.

Water Availability

Water security is a growing issue. Fresh water is more of a finite resource than we think. Between 1997 and 2000, soybean used 4% of global irrigation water. Of course, water used varies among region and farming method - South American soy is mainly rain fed but is irrigated in other areas.

The soy in fields is more compacted than in rainforest, so tends to run off - rather than seep down into the soil. If intensive soy cultivation continues to expand however, we’ll need to use more of the global water supply to facilitate it.


Monoculture is the cultivation of a single crop in one given area. Monocultures are widely evidenced to have negative impacts on ecological services and be more reliant on chemicals to control pests. Diverse ecosystems are more resilient and important to reducing the impacts of events such as climate change. Removing diverse rainforests structures for soy monocultures detracts from a variety of beneficial ecosystem services.

Social Change & Human Rights

A lot of American soybean production is operated on a large industrial scale, which tends to be bad news to smallholders. For example, many farms in the Brazilian Cerrado and Amazon average 1,000 ha and even up to 50,000 ha (70,000 football pitches).

In Chaco province, Argentina, soy has overtaken smallholder crops such as cotton - the number of farmers owning under 100ha fell by 80% while the number of farms over larger than 1,000ha increased by 230% between 1998 and 2002. Large industrial enterprises can displace local communities in some areas and take away livelihoods if not expanded considerately; it also concentrates the economic benefits to far fewer people. While the growth in soy enterprises may positively impact developing countries’ economies, whether they benefit local individuals is another matter.

There have also been cases of human rights abuses in relation to soy. In 2004 the Brazilian government intervened in 236 cases of slavery in soy farms involving over 6,000 labourers, 127 of which were children. On a positive note, now that many of these cases have been exposed, these problems are being addressed.

Again, these issues are varied by geography. Some estimates believe that conversion to soy has removed four out of five farm jobs in parts of Argentina. On the contrary, soy is an important source of income and employment for several million smallholders in India and China.

Genetic Modification

GM soy first came about in 1996 to make crops resistant to herbicides. Argentina and the US are now almost entirely in use of GM soy. In 2009 77% of global soy production was GM. Genetic modification is a hotly debated topic – what’s the best approach to GM? We’d argue a precautionary approach. If it doesn’t need to be used, or the only reason to use it is for financial benefit, don’t use it, especially if its impacts aren’t 100%

A view of lots of colourful shipping containers from above.

Is All Soy Questionably Produced?

The way in which soy is produced is varied greatly. Yes you can find GM-free, smallholders producing soy in certain areas; however the majority is still produced in South America. Though improvements are being made in South America to soy production, many faults still exist.

We'd advocate that if you are buying a soy based product solely because of its environmental benefits, you try and find out where the soy has actually come from. If you're buying soy wax, you then might want to dig into the manufacture process too.

Soy Wax Production

Soy wax uses a mechanical process to separate the soybean matter from the oil. The oil is then refined and bleached. Soybean oil is then heated to 140-220 degrees Celsius in a hydrogenating machine. More than just soy goes into making soy wax, the wax is chemically distilled with hexane, bleached with chlorine, deodorized with boric acid and then hydrogenated.

Now, this isn’t to say that any other wax doesn’t use chemical processes in production. But we want to drive home - soy wax is more than just soybean off the plant.

  • Soy wax isn’t natural. Soy is natural – if it isn’t GM soy, or hasn't been planted in the place of natural rain-forest that was formed over hundreds of years.
  • Natural doesn’t mean sustainable - not if it’s grown in monocultures on cut down rain-forests on continually decreasing quality soil and at the expense of global water tables. 
  • To be labelled as a soy candle, it only has to be 51% soy. Even ‘100% soy’ candles may be processed with a small amount of paraffin.

Common Misconceptions About SoyWax

There's a lot of common misconceptions promoted by users of soy wax to try and sell their product. Here's some questions answered, backed up by theNational Candle Association, the governing body of candle manufacturers in the United States.

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Doe Soy Wax Burn Cleaner?

If made well, with sufficiently refined oils, study shows that all wax types exhibit the same clean burning behaviour. Here’s a report on theNational Candlemaker’s Association website.

Does Soy Wax Burn Longer?

Our candles have an average 35 hour burn time, we’ve timed it – you can if you like too! That’s on par with any similar size soy candle. If it’s not we’d question what else has been added to it, probably more paraffin.

Does Soy Wax Hold Scent Better?

Not if you want it to be natural. Even more chemicals are added to help soy wax hold its scent. Smell our candles for yourself, they smell great lit or not.

Is Soy the Only Biodegradable Wax?

No. Studies have shown that beeswax, paraffin and vegetable-based waxes are all biodegradable.

Are Soy Candles Better for Your Health?

No. Paraffin wax – like all candle waxes – is non-toxic. In fact, paraffin is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in food, cosmetics, and medical applications. Food-grade paraffin is commonly used for manufacturing candles.   

Is Soy Good for Animals?

If you argued that you're eating soy instead of animals, then maybe it could be considered so. If you consider that the large majority of soy is produced to feed and fatten animals with so that they can be fed to humans, probably not, nor if you consider all the animals that have lost their habitat to soy farms. 

Is Soy Wax Natural?

As we've said before,soy wax isn’t natural. Soy wax doesn't grow on trees. Soy (one of soy wax's constituent materials) is natural – if it isn’t GM soy, or hasn't been planted in the place of natural rain-forest that was formed over hundreds of years. Nearly all candles contain some paraffin to help them burn, along with other material or chemicals to add or hold scents and improve burning. If someone simply tells you a manufactured product is 'natural' with no other evidence or information, we'd advise you to question their motives.  

Which Wax is Toxic or Non-Toxic?

Like 'natural' 'non-toxic' is another mostly unregulated claim that gets thrown around for marketing purposes without much thought or honesty behind it. 'Non-toxic' means the product doesn't contain ingredients that have been linked to toxic responses in humans. Something can be derived outside of nature and still be non-toxic. Just because something is natural, it doesn't mean it is non-toxic. You can eat food grade paraffin and not expect a toxic response from your body. Food grade paraffin is used widely in the food industry as wrappings for cheese and other food stuffs, it's also an additive in some foods. Obviously, we do not advise eating wax, it holds no real nutritional value and in all waxes there are other additives such as scents or binders which (legally) should be labelled on every candle you buy. What is harmful however, is when people use phrases such as 'non-toxic' dishonestly, wrongly, or just to sell people something.

What Wax do we use and Why?

We use a mix of vegetable and mineral oil. Yes mineral oil is paraffin. The paraffin we use in non-toxic, food-grade paraffin.
For us it boils down to several things:

  • Can we source ethically produced soy locally at a reasonable cost? No.
  • Can we source waste to re-use in our products? Yes.
  • Are fossil fuels going to stop being used anytime soon? No – though we’d sure love them to be.
  • How can we get more out of fossil fuel waste? Aside from reducing it, by re-using it.

For us it’s a matter of what is best at the moment in time. We don’t want to jump on the band wagon shouting out repetitive environmental rhetoric. We want to use what we think is best for us and the environment.

We want to think hard about how we can limit the impact of our products based on where we are right now and the impacts of what we think those actions may be in the future.

We don’t think it would be beneficial to buy cheap GM soy wax to support bad farming practising in another country. We don’t want to increase air and sea miles importing soy to the UK and we don't want to buy a product that has potentially contributed to deforestation, loss of unique habitat and livelihoods.

At the end of the day a candle is a non essential product. We’d rather use a byproduct of gas and oil production, mixed with vegetable oil (vegetables that are not farmed on rainforests). Than use an original source product of much controversy, especially if we can’t guarantee its quality, or if we do, have to fly it across the sea to burn it at great expense.

To us, in our situation, it’s a more environmentally responsible choice right now. That’s not to say our views will change as the situation does, or as new information arises - we're always learning. What’s important is that we are going to keep on questioning things.

If you care about your products, you should too.

Candles, Emissions and the Clean Air Strategy

We are a member of the British Candlemakers Federation (BCF) and follow their guidelines on candle production, emissions and safety.

You can read the BCF’s response to the 2019 Clean Air Strategy here. To summarise:

  • Emissions from candles are marginal compared to other sources and are within World Health Organisation guidelines
  • Jonathan Bartley (Co-Leader of the Green Party) has stated that the Clean Air Strategy is avoiding the major causes of air pollution by focusing on things such as candles, rather than transport. 
  • Within homes, most emissions come from sources such as cooking, building materials, cleaning materials and the burning of wood or coal for heating.
  • Candle organisations within Europe continue to promote candle safety and three European standards are dedicated to candle emissions

In addition to this, theEuropean Candle Associationreleased a statement on findings related to fine particles in candles, based on acomprehensive research report by the Danish Environmental Protection Agencywhich used state of the art scientific methods to test a variety of the most common candles.

Research Findings

  • Candles do emit fine particles during burning, but, as long as they are protected from draught as instructed by the manufacturers, virtually all particles emitted by most candles consist of the salts used to treat wicks. These salts dissolve easily in water, meaning they are not persistent and can be excreted easily by the body.

  • The soot content of the particles is very low and much lower than in diesel exhaust for example.

  • Heavy metals, such as lead or nickel could not be detected in the emissions.

  • The emission of volatile organic compounds was unremarkable and at very low levels.

  • Due to these significant differences, particles emitted by candles are different from those emitted by other sources (eg traffic, dust etc) and should not be be compared directly with those other sources.

  • It is recommended to purchase high-quality candles, protect them from draught during burning and trim the wick if it gets too long.

    Our advice is to make sure that the candles you buy are well made. Ensuring that producers are members of organisations such as the BCF is a good indicator of this.

A Note on This Blog

The information included in this blog was, as far as we were aware, correct at the time of writing. We may update it at times, but encourage you to keep up to date on any recent discoveries or changes in thinking. We're just a small business trying our best to understand things in-between our work. Remember to read other things and try to use multiple, credible sources where possible to reach your own conclusions.

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Source Material & Suggested Reading

The Growth of Soy: Impacts and Solutions | World Wildlife Fund

Hidden soy | World Wildlife Fund

Soy Production Linked to Habitat Loss in Brazil | Open Access Government

Okometric Study Summary - The National Candle Association

Environmentally friendly candles with reduced particle emissions - Danish Environmental Protection Agency

Candlemakers Advice Pack: Joint advice from Trading Standards and the British Candlemakers Federation

Research papers:

J.M. H. Green, S.A. Croft, A.P. Durán, A.P. Balmford, N.D. Burgess, S. Fick, T.A. Gardner, J. Godar, C. Suavet, M. Virah-Sawmy, L.E. Young, and C.D. West. 2019. Linking global drivers of agricultural trade to on-the-ground impacts on biodiversity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116 (46) 23202-23208.

Arima, E., Ricjards, P. D., Walker, R. & Caldas, M. 2011. Statistical Confirmation of Indirect Land Use Change in the Amazon. Environmental Research  Letters, 6.

Morton, D. C., Defries, R., Shimabukuro, Y. E., Anderson, L. O., Aral, E., Del Bon Espirito-Santo, F., Freitas, R. & Morisette, J. 2006. Cropland expansion changes deforestation dynamics in the southern Brazilian Amazon. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 103, 14637-14641.

Barona, E., Ramankutty, N., Hyman, G. & Coomes, O. 2010. The role of pasture and soybean in deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon. Environmental Research Letters

Kaimowitz, D. & Smith, J. (eds.) 2001. Soybean Technology and the Loss of Natural Vegetation in Brazil and Bolivia, New York: CABI Publishing.

Laurance WF, Sayer J, Cassman KG (2014) Agricultural expansion and its impacts on tropical nature. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 29: 107–116.

Richards PD, Myers RJ, Swinton SM, Walker RT (2012) Exchange rates, soybean supply response, and deforestation in South America. Global environmental change 22: 454–462.

Defries, R. S., Rudel, T., Uriarte, M. & Hansen, M. 2010. Deforestation driven by urban population growth and agricultural trade in the twenty-first century. Nature Geoscience, 3, 178-181.

Andersen, L., Granger, C., Reis, E. J., Weinhold, D. & Wunder, S. 2002. The Dynamics of Deforestation and Economic Growth in the Brazilian Amazon, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

Lapola, D. M., Schaldacha, R., Alcamoa, J., Bondeaud, A., Kocha, J., Koelkinga, C. & Priesse, J. A. 2010. Indirect land-use changes can overcome carbon savings from biofuels in Brazil. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.