Description/Application

  • Waxes are water-repellant solids that can be easily melted and poured, or carved. A variety of waxes with different properties exist, including paraffin, beeswax, and microcrystalline wax. They are used in the arts for casting, batik fabric dyeing, candlemaking and encaustic.

Resources

  • Waxes are produced by animals and plants, manufactured synthetically, and can also be mined from the earth. Bees, sheep, and palm trees excrete wax. In the past sperm whales were killed for their spermaceti wax, but today common animal wax is collected without harming the animal populations involved, aside from a few insect casualties. 1 Impure waxes are cleaned through boiling, where detritus separates from the melted wax and can be removed. Paraffin and microcrystalline wax are petroleum derivatives, and ozokerite and montan wax are found in natural deposits. 1

Environment

  • The environmental impact of wax varies depending on the type. Beekeeping and beeswax production requires healthy populations of bees, which support pollination of plants. Sheep husbandry and mining may require clearing of land, which has negative geological impacts like erosion. The petroleum industry contributes to environmental pollution and global warming. 2

Human Health

  • Wax is not considered dangerous to human health. It is often added to food to improve consistency, and can be consumed in small quantities without harm, although it cannot be broken down by the human body. 3 Fumes from liquid paraffin may be irritating and nauseating to breathe, and some wax may contain carcinogenic hydrocarbons, but most paraffin used in the United States is safe. 4, 5  

Social Equity        

  • Ozokerite and lignite, a coal which contains montan wax, are mined around the world. Germany and Greece use lignite coal as a main source of energy. 6

Safe Use and Exposure

  • When melting wax, use a double boiler to avoid burning or ignition. Use pot holders to avoid burns from hot wax or steam. If sensitive to fumes, wear eye and breathing protection, or work in a well ventilated space.

Proper disposal

  • Wax can always be remelted and filtered. Donate unwanted wax to the givetake, or dispose of in the regular trash. Do not pour molten wax down the drain.

 

Sources

  1. “Waxes and Other Esters”, Cyberlipid.org, http://bit.ly/2d9ApEa
  2. “Petroleum”, Pollutionissues.com, http://bit.ly/2d0tFVt
  3. “Wax Poisoning”, Medlineplus.gov, http://bit.ly/2gCpy6C
  4. “Paraffin Wax Fumes”, OSHA.gov, http://bit.ly/2fyi9Wi
  5. Wax MSDS, http://bit.ly/2gS1TzI
  6. “Lignite”, Wikipedia, http://bit.ly/1NerxmU