Is beeswax biodegradable? Can it be composted?

  • Date: May 13, 2022

From candles to food wraps, beeswax is becoming more common on the shop shelves. They are not commonly recycled, so provide a bit of a headache when it comes to disposal. Are they destined for landfill via the trash? Or is beeswax biodegradable and can it be popped in the compost bin with other household waste? Usually, yes! Although just make sure it doesn’t contain any nasty chemicals…

Firstly, where does beeswax come from?

If we know where a product comes from, it is the first step in determining if it is biodegradable (and, ultimately, compostable) or not.

Beeswax, as the name suggests, comes from young worker honeybees. They secrete liquid wax from special glands in their abdomen. When the liquid comes into contact with the air it turns to a solid. This solidified wax is then used to build the comb – this is where the honey is stored and it also provides a place for larvae to develop.

So, is beeswax biodegradable?

If an item is said to be biodegradable, it can be broken down naturally by bacteria and other micro-organisms. By this process natural products can, essentially, return their component parts to nature.  As we have established, beeswax is a natural product – making it fully biodegradable. Synthetic alternatives, on the other hand, will just breakdown into tiny pieces over time. This can cause harm to the environment rather than nourishment.  

It should be noted that although beeswax can break down within a matter of months, it needs to be in the right conditions. It is often assumed that an item will biodegrade in landfill in the quoted biodegradation timeframe. But this is, generally, not the case. In landfill space is limited and items packed closely together. The lack of airflow and moisture can really slow down the process. We always advise reusing items and diverting them from landfill for as long as possible – even biodegradable ones like beeswax. 

Is beeswax compostable?

Composting can help us reduce the amount of items that we put in the trash and, ultimately, send to landfill. It also provides some nutritious fertilizer to use in the garden. A win-win! However, it is a common misconception that if an item is biodegradable, it can be composted. This is, unfortunately, not the case. The words ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’ do not mean the same thing – there are subtle differences. For instance, if an item is biodegradable but contains harsh chemicals or biohazards it may not be suitable for composting – the chemicals or biological material could contaminate the pile. Beeswax can, generally, be composted.

Composting materials fall into two categories. ‘Green’ materials refer to items that are rich in nitrogen such as food scraps or urine (yes, you read correctly – urine!). ‘Browns’, on the other hand, are rich in carbon and include items such as wool and hemp fabric.  Beeswax falls into the carbon-rich ’browns’ category. It is important to ensure you have suitable proportions of both ‘browns’ and ‘greens’ in the mix. Too much carbon-rich material can mean a dry pile, too many ‘greens’ can result in a slimy (and rather smelly) mess! Some experimentation is required, but you won’t go far wrong with a 1:1 ratio. Monitor it and make changes as you go. 

As far as composting goes natural waxes, in general, are quite simple. Beeswax should only take a matter of weeks – or months. If you are new to the composting arena, we have answered some of the commonly asked newbie questions here.

Some considerations when composting beeswax….

As mentioned, if a biodegradable item contains harsh chemicals it may be unsuitable for your compost pile. Just because a product is made from beeswax does not mean it is 100% natural. For example, chemicals may be added to beeswax candles to give them a more distinctive smell or to add color. This must be considered when adding beeswax to your compost pile. We advise you to look at the ingredients list of the item and make a judgement call from there. When it comes to composting, having a more cautious approach is often better than risking contamination.

Composting beeswax is a relatively quick process. However, you can speed it up even more by breaking the wax into smaller pieces.  This gives the microbes a larger surface area to do their thing. It also means that the smaller pieces can be easily distributed in the pile, spreading their carbon as throughout.   

The bottom line

We can all do our bit to help divert items from landfill – composting can be a great alternative to throwing items in the trash.  If you have a beeswax product that you can’t reuse, gift or repurpose, it can add a useful carbon-rich ‘brown’ ingredient to your pile. Just be sure to check the ingredients list for any nasty chemicals that could cause your garden more harm than good!