candle-recycling.jpg You want some romantic mood lighting to go along with that anniversary dinner. What are you going to choose: pristine, brand new candles or that half-burned chunk of wax leftover from Christmas dinner? It is the same situation for birthday candles. Who wants a stubby collection of charred candles decorating their cake? Most people who use candles have a collection of partially burned ones sitting in a drawer or on a shelf, awaiting further use or disposal. If it is the latter option, many people want to know: Should I put them in the trash, or can I recycle them? Almost all candles contain nontoxic ingredients, and the National Candle Association claims that most are made from biodegradable material. But, it is hard to believe that solid chunk of wax will break down anytime soon or turn into a beneficial soil amendment. Plus, there is a lot of it out there — home and commercial candle makers go through about a billion pounds of wax every year.

So, just how do I recycle candles?

Unfortunately, there is no good way to recycle candles, but there are plenty of ways to reuse them. We share some ideas, as well as the story of a nonprofit using old candles to create new opportunities for low-income people.

What are candles made of?

Candles were originally made from tallow (which comes from animal fat), whale fat or beeswax. Today, they are much more likely to be paraffin, a petroleum byproduct, or soy. Candles can also be made with gels and other types of chemical waxes. Every candle has a wick, which is typically made of braided cotton thread. The wicks sometimes contain a tiny metal rod to keep them upright. Those rods used to be made of lead, and the harmful heavy metal could escape into the air when the wick was lit. Today, the rods are made of tin or zinc, both of which will not affect human health. Using lead in candle wicks was banned in the U.S. in 2003. There are several ways to make candles depending on the desired shape. The most common are pouring wax into a mold or jar, dipping a wick repeatedly in wax, or using an extruding machine to create straight or novelty-shaped candles. Some candles have fragrance added to give them a pleasant smell. Those fragrances are nontoxic and will not harm humans or animals when the candle burns.

How to reuse candle wax at home

Even if you want to use a whole candle, it is not necessarily safe to do so. The National Candle Association recommends you stop burning jarred candles when there is half-an-inch of wax left, and all other candles when there are 2 inches of wax left. The odd bits of wax left at the end of each candle’s life are easy to reuse. You can make new candles out of old ones by removing any bits of wick or labels, melting the wax and pouring it into molds. Put some thought into whether you want to mix candles with different scents (you have no idea what the result will be) or colors (unless all your candles are the same color, your results will probably be brown). If that leftover candle end happens to be beeswax, there are all kinds of uses for it. Rub it on a toboggan, a sticky drawer or wooden window sash to ensure it slides smoothly. Use it to preserve bronze and copper objects, or wax string before sliding beads on it when making a necklace or bracelet.

Nonprofit finds creative uses for old candles

Partially burned candles often find their way to thrift stores, and in 2004 the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County in Eugene, OR, decided it was tired of throwing them in the trash. The organization gathered all the candles it could find, melted them down and combined them with recycled cotton to make a fire starter. EcoFire, as the product is called, was sold to campers and restaurants with outdoor fire pits. Over the last couple years, SVdP has added two additional products. Brick-o-Wax is exactly what it sounds like: 2-pound bricks of wax in a range of colors intended for use by candle makers and other crafters. Extreme Brick-o-Wax is for skateboards who want to wax inanimate objects before they do tricks on them. All the proceeds from the sale of these recycled products help the agency provide social services to local residents, including job training, food boxes and affordable housing.

How to reuse or recycle glass candle jars

A quick look on Pinterest yields a host of ideas for reusing candle jars, including turning them into planters, vases and decorative containers for holding makeup brushes or office supplies. You can also use them as candle holders again by placing small votive, pillar or even floating candles in them. To remove any remaining wax, put the jar in the freezer. Once the wax freezes it is easy to pry out. Not the crafty type? Most candle jars are made of glass and can be recycled curbside. Be sure and remove any residual wax first.