Making Beach Trash Candles

We started Ventana because we love the ocean, and we wanted to make surfboards and surf supplies for people who love it as well. Too many companies rely heavily on overseas manufacturing and toxic production methods to bring you your surf products. They may be less expensive, but these products aren’t doing the ocean any favors. So, we decided to create and sell products that raise the bar on environmental responsibility in the industry. And, we give up to 5% of profits to ocean conservation. For some products, we even donate 100% of the profit. That was the case with our Beach Trash Bottle Candles. Here’s the story of how these candles came to be.

When we first began planning the vision for Ventana we decided on a list of surf supplies that would be our initial inventory. One of those products was a surf wax candle you could burn to relax after your session. Many companies make surf wax candles though, and we initially thought about putting our private label on someone else’s wholesale candles. But we wanted something different, so we knew we had to make our own…just like we do with our hollow wooden surfboards and bodysurfing handplanes.

Whenever we plan for a new product, we start by brainstorming around our core values: Craftsmanship. Responsibility. Adventure. We applied those values to the candle concept, and it quickly evolved into something totally unique. Given that much of what we do involves craftsman woodworking, we decided to make the candles smell like cedar and use wooden wicks. From a responsibility perspective, everything needed to be made domestically, and natural soy wax was an obvious choice due to the sustainable nature of soy beans. But, we were stuck on the containers. It was difficult to find cost effective glass or tin containers that were U.S. made. And, we didn’t want to contribute to more “single use” purchasing, so from a responsibility and craftsmanship perspective it made sense to make the containers ourselves. But how? Unfortunately, there were glass bottles from weekend parties all over the local Santa Cruz beaches, but luckily there are a number of great ocean conservation groups who organize clean-ups. We contacted our friends over at Save Our Shores and asked them for their trash. Over a three month period, SOS gave us over 150 bottles collected by local middle school students and other volunteers. We soaked the bottles in hot water, scrubbed off the labels and began researching cutting methods.

After a good deal of trial, error and broken glass, we landed on the right method. Curtis Cobb Construction volunteered to cut every bottle using a tile saw outfitted with a glass cutting blade on loan from local tile pro Dale Martentette. Some broke but when all was said and done we had over 60 bottles with which to work. Curtis even helped his 10 year old son learn the math to calculate the percentage of broken bottles relative to salvaged ones.

From there we set about sanding. We rallied family members and a few friends to hand sand the edges of the bottles using coarse and medium grit Emory cloth to get the rough edges off, then we wet sanded them with fine Emory cloth to make the edges smooth. This took a lot of elbow grease, but doing it in a group made the time pass more quickly. We ordered 10 lb bags of natural, U.S. grown soy wax, premium crackle wooden wicks in the 5/8 inch by 5 inch size, and metal sustainer clips to hold the wicks in place during wax pouring. We still had to tape the wicks in place to make sure they didn't move before the wax hardened, though. We used cedar fragrance oil, but any scent will do. Yes, shipping those supplies from across the country didn’t make us jump for joy, and if we do such a project again, we’ll work on making more of the components ourselves. But, we believe the outcome more than makes up for any extra CO2 released during shipping.

We washed the bottles again in the dishwasher, then used this method to make the candles. We had to use GooGone to get the remaining label glue off of some of the bottles. After the candles were done, we printed small, waterproof stickers with the Save Our Shores logo using our color inkjet printer and stuck them on the candles. Then we took them to market online and at our “pop-up shop.”

At our first pop-up shop we sold more than 40 in less than an hour. Each one is unique and certain interesting bottle shapes became hot commodities very quickly. We made another batch and raised the price a bit. We sold almost all of the final batch at our second "pop-up." We felt okay with raising the prices given that all the profits were going to Save Our Shores.  

It took a good deal of work to make these candles, and we’re not sure we’ll do it again, so we decided to blog about it so that others would be inspired to turn beach trash into products…or find more streamlined ways of doing what we did.

So, have at it. Go forth, get some trash and make some stuff. We’re inspired by people like this artist making jewelry from plastic beach trash, or this one making framed rope pictures or these high school students who used beach trash to hold an art contest. If this inspires you, let us know what you do and which organizations you support with your profits. When trash has economic value, it ceases to be trash and starts to be, well, valuable. Making art is a start, but perhaps it will inspire more people to take on challenges like that of The Clean Oceans Project...turning plastic trash into fuel. These are the kinds of bold plans that are required if we have any chance of saving our seas.