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Surf Wax Marketing and Environmental Impact main image

SURF WAX MARKETING AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

Surf Wax packaging decorated with Green Eco-Slogans has become an effective marketing strategy since most people are willing to accept these claims at face value.  At Sexwax, we use Paraffin wax as the base material in all our surf wax formulations because it is essential in creating what we consider to be the best surf wax on the planet.  It’s also worth noting that from an environmental perspective, the Soy wax used in most of the so called “GREEN WAX” formulas shares many common attributes with Paraffin wax.  For a thorough and more nuanced understanding of Sexwax’s impact on the environment, please review the following analysis and internet links to the source material on which it is based. 


IS THE WAX BIODEGRADABLE?

PARAFFIN – YES, SOY WAX – YES

Both Paraffin wax and Soy wax are biodegradable 1 and compostable.  With Soy wax, the hydrogenation process converts soybean oil into a molecule that is basically identical to paraffin, so they both decompose in a very similar manner.


IS THE WAX NON-TOXIC?

PARAFFIN – YES,  SOY WAX – YES

Both paraffin wax and soy wax are non-toxic.  Both products are actually approved for limited use as food additives by the FDA 2.


IS THE WAX ORGANIC? 

PARAFFIN – NO, SOY WAX – NO

In the conventional USDA food/cosmetic sense, both paraffin wax and hydrogenated soy oil (wax) are considered synthetic and non-organic 3.  If a company put either of these products in a food and labeled it as organic they would get in trouble.  Even if you begin with organic soy oil, the nickel-catalyzed hydrogenation reaction that converts the oil to a wax makes the resulting wax non-organic.   Some companies claim that their soy-based surf waxes are organic, but there is no regulatory agency that enforces, or even defines, what constitutes an organic surf wax.  Companies that claim hydrogenated soybean oil is organic are able avoid false-advertising charges because, in chemistry, any chemical made up of carbon atoms is referred to as “organic”.  So, a chemist would refer to any kind of wax as an organic compound 4, but this has nothing do with the USDA’s Organic designation that is applied to food and other products in the grocery store.   


IS THE WAX “EARTH FRIENDLY”, “NATURAL”, “ECO-SAFE”, OR “GREEN”?

PARAFFIN – ???, SOY WAX – ???

It is impossible and pointless to determine if any product can be characterized according to vague advertising terms that don’t have any specific meaning 5.  None of these pseudo-environmental terms actually mean anything and advertisers can use them however they like.   If you want to say that paraffin wax or soy wax are earth friendly, eco-safe, green,  natural, or that they are not, go right ahead, no one can dispute what you are saying.


DOES THE WAX CONTAIN PETROCHEMICALS?

PARAFFIN – YES, SOY WAX – YES

Paraffin wax is obtained when crude oil is separated into its individual components. The wax itself is a petrochemical and additional hydrocarbon energy is required to transport and refine the wax from crude oil. Most Soy beans are genetically engineered 8 and grown with petrochemical fertilizers, petrochemical pesticides and petrochemical herbicides.   Additional petrochemical energy is consumed when the soy beans are transported to processing facilities and the oil is extracted using hexane 9 (another petrochemical).  Soy bean oil is converted to wax through hydrogenation, in which hydrogen gas is catalytically combined with the oil. Hydrogen gas is produced industrially through a process called methane steam reforming 10, where natural gas (a petrochemical) and water are broken up into hydrogen gas and carbon dioxide.  As a result, even if the soybeans were grown, transported and the oil was extracted without any petrochemicals, in order to become a wax they have to have hydrogen (made from petrochemicals) added to them.


IS THE WAX A RENEWABLE RESOURCE?

PARAFFIN – NO, SOY WAX – NO

Paraffin wax is made from crude oil and it is not a renewable resource.  It is theoretically possible to manufacture soy wax in a renewable fashion; however, it is not done this way.  Actual commercial production of soy wax involves non-renewable petrochemical resources at all stages of production (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, transportation, oil extraction and hydrogenation).


DOES THE WAX HAVE ANY NEGATIVE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT?

PARAFFIN – YES, SOY WAX – YES

Paraffin wax is made from crude oil which is a non renewable resource.  There is potential for environmental damage in extracting and transporting oil. Energy is required to extract, transport and refine the oil.  If allowed to biodegrade, paraffin wax will release carbon dioxide that was previously sequestered.

The current manufacturing process for converting soy beans to soy wax involves non-renewable petrochemical feed-stocks and a substantial amount of energy. Most Soy is genetically modified and grown with petrochemical fertilizers, petrochemical herbicides and petrochemical pesticides, all non-renewable.

Negative impacts associated with the crude oil that paraffin is refined from must also be associated with soy wax to some degree, becase of all the petrochemicals used to produce soy wax. Growing soy also requires a substantial amount of water, a resource that is becoming scarcer.  Diverting food crops to industrial use has resulted in food shortages, rising food prices6  and deforestation of previously uncultivated land.  These effects have already been documented as a result of increased biodiesel production.  When previously uncultivated land is deforested to meet the growing demand for industrial crops, carbon dioxide emissions can actually be higher than if crude oil were used 7.

Right now there is lots of research and heated debate about the environmental impacts associated with biodiesel and petroleum diesel.  Because biodiesel is made from vegetable oil, just like soy wax, this debate is somewhat analogous to the question of paraffin wax versus soy wax.  Anyone interested in this subject should follow the biodiesel debate, particularly the indirect land use change aspect that is currently raging in the European Union and at the EPA.

 

References

1 http://tappi.micronexx.com/JOURNALS/PDF/93FEB167.5936.pdf

2 http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodIngredientsPackaging/FoodAdditives/ucm191033.htm

3 http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=4739fe8d00ef1e401e6c784eb2582331&rgn=div8&view=text&node=7:3.1.1.9.32.7.354.6&idno=7

4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_compound

5 http://business.ftc.gov/documents/grass-always-greener

6 http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/08/world/europe/08italy.html

7 http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/15/us-eu-biofuels-idUSTRE76E2PI20110715

8 http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/biotechcrops/

9 http://www.epa.gov/ttnchie1/ap42/ch09/finalc9s11-1.pdf

10 http://www1.eere.energy.gov/hydrogenandfuelcells/production/natural_gas.html