With fireworks season well underway, we looked into the environmental impact of these sparkling wonders and how to ensure your display won’t damage the planet.
As the 5th November draws closer, the first things that come to mind are crisp autumn evenings, sticky toffee apples and, of course, the ‘Remember remember’ rhyme. What we often forget however, is the relationship between bonfire night and the planet. The real effects of our favourite autumnal event can sometimes be drowned out behind the bright bursts of colour, crackles and pops, but this year, Sainsbury’s decision to stop selling fireworks has brought the question back into conversation. So, when the smoke clears, what are the long-term social and environmental consequences of this oh-so-pretty pollutant?
Whole boxes of brightly coloured fireworks may seem to just disappear with a puff of smoke and a shower of sparks, but we’ve all found those tell-tale cardboard tubes and plastic fragments on the days after bonfire night. This waste contains traces of toxic chemicals, which can cause harm to local wildlife if found by animals. As firework waste can’t be recycled, it also often contaminates other recyclable goods when thrown away in the wrong place. If you are hosting a display at home, Recycling Bins UK suggests soaking the debris for 15 to 20 minutes before disposing of it to remove all chemicals, before discarding it with your general waste.
Aside from the physical remains left behind, the statistics also have it that particle pollution in the air reached a 10 in some UK cities on bonfire night in 2018. This marks the highest level on the air pollution scale, and around 5 -14% of UK dioxin emissions is thought to be produced around bonfire night. The real issue, however, is the particles that are causing the pollution themselves. London Air explains that when fireworks explode, they release tiny pieces of toxic metals into the air such as the copper and barium that are used for colour, as well as the titanium and antimony used to create crackles and sparkles.
From a planetary perspective, these tiny particles might mean big trouble. Once the bright colours fade and the sparks fall, the toxins can stick around in the air and have been found to cause greater lung damage than pollution from traffic. As they fall to the ground, these particles can end up in our soil or water systems too. While avoiding the firework fun isn’t always an option, going along to an organised display is a great way to avoid accelerating the problem.
November 5th celebrations have also stirred up some controversy from a social stance, with a 2018 petition to ban the sale of fireworks for the welfare of animals, children, and trauma sufferers gaining over 300,000 signatures. While just festive fun for some, the loud noises created by fireworks can be particularly triggering for military veterans, and research from the RSPCA also maintains that 45% of dogs show physical signs of fear when they hear fireworks. To be as respectful as possible to neighbouring households, aim to head to a display that is hosted at an isolated area away from any housing.
While our November night fun doesn’t come without its consequences, the good news is that there are plenty of ways to celebrate more sustainably. If refraining from fireworks all together isn’t possible just yet, it should be about reducing over-consumption and celebrating consciously. Eco-friendly fireworks might be hard to find, but white-only versions do have less harmful chemicals than their coloured counterparts. Displays in more remote areas are easier to clean up, while also reducing the effect of any pollution released. And, if it’s just a case of creating that nostalgic November cosiness that goes hand-in-hand with bonfire night, enjoying the effects from behind your window with a home-made toffee apple in hand doesn’t sound too bad to us at all.