Richard Hills-ingyon and his partner Sargon Latchin rescue, recycle and give new life to tapers and tealights by handcrafting ecofriendly candles
An inspiring couple rescue and recycle wax from restaurants and churches to create luxury, sustainable candles
As we approach the shortest days of the year and spring sunshine feels a long way away, there is something primevally comforting about the flicker of a naked flame on a dark evening. It’s no wonder that, for centuries past, candles have been synonymous with Christmas and winter. They, like the traditional Yule log, bring warmth, light and comfort into our homes when the weather can be at its most bitter.
This tradition is beautifully showcased at the Sid Valley Country House Hotel in Devon, where guests are welcomed by rows of candles lining the pathways leading up to the front door. What makes the scene even more special is that these are no ordinary festive decorations – the hotel is also the headquarters of The Recycled Candle Company and, as the name suggests, its products are all made from carefully repurposed wax.
The company, which is the only one of its kind, was founded in 2015 by Richard Hills-ingyon and his partner Sargon Latchin. There’s something delightfully democratic about Richard and Sargon’s wares. Wax donated by grand hotels and churches melts and mingles with stubs from the local pub, transforming into candles that prove sustainability and luxury don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Concern for the environment lies at the heart of Richard’s business philosophy, but he is also keen to create products that appeal over and above their green credentials. The company’s clients, he says, are “not only people who feel they can’t justify a luxury purchase that can’t be recycled, but also those who just love luxury”.
Richard made his first candles as a child, using an old craft kit that had belonged to his mother and never been used. His earliest attempt, he cheerfully admits, was “awful!”, but marked the beginning of a life-long interest in candlemaking. He started experimenting with the ancient craft, but soon began to run out of raw material: “Wax is quite expensive so, instead of throwing away any candles that turned out wonky or where the wicks fell out, I started to remelt them.”
The challenge was to find an effective way to filter and purify it – or, as Richard says, “figure out a way of putting bad wax in and getting good wax out”. His early efforts involved kitchen sieves and tea towels (his mother was clearly extremely understanding), but eventually, he worked out how to transform old candles into fresh wax. It was this technique, once mastered, that inspired the launch of his business. Now, to produce his current elegant range, he uses a cleverly converted industrial-sized tea urn, affectionately known as Bertha, fitted with net filters that strain the molten wax. Bertha has plenty to digest: some of Richard’s candles are recycled from restaurants, and unwanted foreign bodies include anything from cutlery and soap to chips, as well as the old wicks (Richard and Sargon are still hopefully waiting for their first diamond ring or necklace to surface from Bertha’s depths).
As their company grew, so did the area they collected candles from. Beginning with local restaurants, they soon began to look further afield – to churches, cathedrals and hotels – and they now do a monthly collection in central London, sometimes from
hotels where “we always feel incredibly under-dressed”, Sargon explains. The Egerton House Hotel in Knightsbridge, for example, has a strong focus on green initiatives; the hotel not only provides wax for recycling, but sells Recycled Candle Company products as gifts, too. Candles are also sent by post from events companies and churches from as far away as Edinburgh and Glasgow. All of these are stored in sacks and crates in the shed where Bertha lives, while they await a new lease of life.
Restaurants and hotels might light fresh candles several times in an evening or for each new guest; once an event is over or a church service has finished, the candles are extinguished and discarded, leading to dozens of half-used candles simply being thrown away. Perhaps surprisingly, wax is not currently classed as recyclable. Even natural beeswax candles are likely to contain additives such as fillers, hardeners and fragrances, while paraffin wax is an oil-based product. No official records are kept of how much used wax ends up in landfill each year but, given the lack of recycling options, the answer must be sizeable.
The Recycled Candle Company thus gives Richard the opportunity to combine his two passions: candlemaking and the environment. “When I was a child, I’d always ask for compost bins and wormeries for birthdays and at Christmas,” he recalls. “I have a huge love for candlemaking, and material going into the bin didn’t fit with my personal ethos. The way that the two strands have come together is very organic.”
While Richard describes his candles as “home-made and handmade”, the results are very far from homespun: you wouldn’t know they were recycled if it didn’t say so on the label – in suitably stylish script, of course. The recycled candle company’s core line of fragranced candles, presented in sleek glass jars with metal lids, can hold its own alongside any of the well-known brands. And it’s not just the candles’ appearance that is ‘high end’. The warm wax is poured not once but twice to ensure maximum burn time and every consignment is individually tested to make sure it has the right wick. “The candle has to burn evenly, with a steady flame, no residue and no soot,” Richard says. “Our glass, wicks and fragrances are all sourced in the UK,” Sargon adds.
Naturally, the right scent is also crucial. “We use really highquality fragrances,” Richard says. “As we’re not paying for wax, we can afford the best.” The current range of eight is a sophisticated selection: Fig & Vanilla; Lily of the Valley; Rose & Oud; Winter Spice; Bitter Orange & Ylang; Ginger & Lime; White Jasmine & Mint; and Lavender & Rock Salt. Richard’s favourite is Winter Spice, while for Sargon, Rose & Oud conjures up memories of Dubai, where he grew up. There are some unexpected touches; the Lavender, for example, is cut with a fresh note of cucumber, while the White Jasmine & Mint successfully evokes “a florist’s shop early in the morning”. It’s hard to imagine anyone buying one of Richard and Sargon’s candles and not burning it right down to the last bit (perfectly evenly, of course) – if any candles are unlikely to end up being recycled, it must be these.