Vegan wax wraps - an alternative?
“Why dont you offer vegan wraps? There are so many plant based waxes, there must be an alternative to beeswax!”
Yes. There are many plant based waxes, waxes one could use instead of beeswax to produce beeswaxwraps. But before judging, it is important to take a closer look at these, at first sight, sustainable alternatives.
Most vegan wraps are made of a blend or just one of the following waxes:
- Soy wax
- Candelilla wax
- Carnauba wax
- Sumac wax
- Rice Bran Wax
Lets have a closer look at these waxes:
You probably have seen soy wax candles. They burn nicely, smell good and seem sustainable. Soy wax is made of soy beans. The plant grows in warm regions such as in Asia and South America. It only takes 100 days for the shrub to grow. Since soy contains 36% of protein, 80% of soy is used to feed animals across Northern America and the EU.
The biggest producer of Soy was in 2012 the US, followed by Brasil. Since the US is not allowed to export soy, Brazil is the country which exports most of the soy. In 2016 alone Brazil exported 96 million tons of Soy beans. To make room for Soy, in 2016 330.000 SQM rainforest were cut down (almost the same size of Germany with 357.000 SQM)!
As long as the rainforests are left alone, Carbon monoxide is bound. Once they are destroyed, the Carbon Monoxide enters the atmosphere. Soy plants do bind Carbon Monoxide, but not close to as much as is set free when rainforests are burnt down. About 98% of Soybeans that are harvested are genetically modified (GMO) or a mixture with GMO soybeans.
Not to forget the social aspects of monocultures. The monocultures are grown in big monocultures which belong to a few big landowners. The small farmers and workers lose work and land.
Is made from leaves and stems of the Candelilla shrub, native to Northern Mexico and Southwestern US. To obtain the wax, the leaves are cooked with diluted sulphuric acid. The wax will float on the surface and will need to be cleaned several times afterwards. This wax is a protected species under CITES.
Also called Brazil Wax, since that is where it comes from. The Copernica Prunifera Palm Tree only grows in the Northeastern States of Brazil. 5-10 Leaves (more will harm the palm tree and it will slowly die off, Harvesting regulations SHOULD be in place) are cut off the Copernica prunifera palm tree and left out in the sun to dry 2-3 days. The plant tries to defend itself from drying out by producing wax. The plant will get pound vigorously to expel the wax flakes. 10 leaves can generate about 1lb of wax. certain variations of the wax are processed with various aliphatic solvent mixtures which are petroleum-based chemicals such as paraffin, iso-paraffin or cyclic paraffins.
There has been a TV report of public German TV station ARD about the "slave like" working conditions of people harvesting the wax. Find the link below.
Rapeseed fields with the yellow flowers are beautiful to look at – for a few weeks. Rapeseed is the 3-rd largest source of vegetable Oil in the world, it is used for animal feed and biodiesel. Rapeseed faces many different pests. Unfortunately, when talking about Rapeseed, we thus also have to name Monsanto. Monsanto genetically developed cultivars of rapeseed to be resistant to their herbicide “Roundup” with the active ingredient Glyphosate. It is possible to prove Glyphosate within the genetic code of a seed even after 4 generations. The biggest producers of rapeseed are Canada with 18.4 Million tons per year, followed by China with 15.3 Million tons and India with 6.8 million tons in 2016. Unfortunately, rapeseed fields are planted in monoculture. Meaning that the plants flower for only a few weeks, and offer only during this short time food for bees and other pollinators. It is not unusual to find starving bees already in June if there are no other blooming wildflowers close by.
Also knowns as Japan wax is imported from Japan and China. The wax is obtained form berries of certain sumacs, such as Toxicodendron. In fact, it is not a real wax but a fat which contains 95% palmitic. Because it can get rancid quickly, it is seldom used in foods but more often in candles, floor waxes, matches, metal lubricants and crayons.
Rice Bran Wax
As the name states, Rice Bran Wax is obtained from rice. It is a byproduct of rice bran oil production. In general, the rice bran oil manufacturing process is one of the most difficult among the vegetable oil processing. The oil contains 3-6% wax. Once the oil is obtained through filtration or centrifugation, it needs to be cleaned. First the wax is defatted, and a dark brown, powdered wax remains. In order to remove the resinous matter, which causes the dark color, the wax needs to be bleached with sodium borohydride in isopropanol. The wax can also be washed with Acetone and Ethanol.
Latest studies show that rice farming has devastating effects on climate change and atmospheric greenhouse gas levels. Nitrous oxide emissions from rice farms are much more potent than other gases, last longer in the atmosphere and trap heat for longer. Nitrous oxide and methane emissions from rice farms could have the same long-term warming impact as 600 coal plants. In the short term, it would be the equivalent of 1,200 coal plants.
There are even more plant based waxes one could import from overseas.
So to sum it up: Yes, there are vegetable waxes.
BUT it is important to look at these waxes from different angles such as:
- WHERE is the wax imported from and what is the resulting CO2 footprint?
- HOW are the plants grown and harvested and how is the wax obtained?
- WHAT impact does the cultivation of the plant have on the ecosystem where it grows?
- ARE there any effects on animals, bees and other pollinators?
- IS there a social impact?
- WHICH chemicals need to be added to extract the wax and to grow the plants?
A few “side effects” all of these waxes have in common is that they are much denser than beeswax. That means that they are not as pliable as beeswax wraps and they do not stick as well. Beeswax has a natural antifungal and antiviral effect because of the propolis it contains. Thus, food stays fresh for longer and is not wasted.
So everyone needs to decide for themselves, what "alternative" they can live with.
We all know that pollinators and bees are endangered. Please read here about why we do help bees.