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Q. Dear Umbra,

I was reading your post on candles and was thrilled to find that beeswax is a viable option, as I absolutely love beeswax candles. However, I already own a fairly large crop of the toxic kind. How can I get rid of them?

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Providence, R.I.

Candles.Burning controversy.Photo: dmeanA. Dearest Amanda,

Ah, responsible disposal — that tricky part of the consumption process that is so easy to overlook. “Buy our pretty things!” most businesses seem to say. “We won’t tell you how to repair them, or which parts are recyclable or compostable (or even belong in a hazardous waste facility), but you’ll feel sooo much better after they’re yours!” Do I sound too cynical? I may be a wee bit cranky, I admit.

Back to your question. I’m guessing by “toxic” you mean paraffin candles, those petroleum-derived offenders who spew volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that dirty up the air. Some well-intentioned people suggest you use paraffin wax for some truly perplexing purposes, like adding it to your bon-bons, melting it and dipping your feet in it, or cleaning ducks after you hunt them. Paraffin is also used in crayons, paintballs, and bullet lubricant, and then there’s ear candling — essentially sticking burning candles into your ear canals — which is simply in a class all its own. I trust none of these interest you.

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One answer is to simply give your candles away, but then one worries one is merely handing off the toxic puppies to other people. The best answer I’ve found is a take-back program in which a nonprofit turns old paraffin candles into campfire-starters. The Western Lake Superior Sanitary District lists this place (you may want to give them a call before shipping off all your old candles):

Airpark Products and Services
(218) 723-4631
4619 Airpark Boulevard
Duluth, MN 55811 is always a good bet for figuring out where to dispose of things. If it doesn’t have any listings for wax recycling in your area, pick your state from this list to find its Department of Environmental Management/Protection/Quality (here’s Rhode Island’s) and ask them about it. If you want to get creative, you can use old candles to wax your skis or sled, or make your own campfire starters by drizzling some of the wax over dryer lint in old egg cartons (be careful!).


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