With only one week to go until Guy Fawkes Night, the festivities are now in full swing. But how many of us remember, remember the consequences that this festivity has on our environment?
Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you that Guy Fawkes Night is a terrible idea and that you should cancel your event. I’m the first to admit that I enjoy a crackling bonfire while watching the night sky lit up with an array of colours and sounds.
However, with the festival just around the corner there couldn’t be a better time to think about a few last minute adjustments to make your celebrations as eco-friendly as possible. Fun is foremost, but there are plenty of methods to integrate into your celebrations to ease any non-green guilt.
Guy Fawkes is often the most polluted evening of the year. Smoke from bonfires and fireworks can build up in our towns and cities. This smoke contains a unique mixture of metal particles that are used to propel and colour fireworks, these include red (strontium or lithium), blue (copper) and bright green and white (barium).
Lead, titanium and antimony produce crackles and sparkles and potassium, aluminium and toxic organic compounds are used as rocket propellants, not to dissimilar to what NASA use to propel their rockets into space. Ironically, these are many of the same pollutants that industry goes to great lengths to filter from the chimneys of waste incinerators and factories.
What Does This Mean?
Fireworks can lead to substantial air pollution problems and there are well documented examples from cites around the world. In Spain for example, metal particle pollution from Girona’s Joan fireworks fiesta can linger in the city for days.
India’s annual Diwali fireworks cause pollution that could put Beijing on a bad day to shame. I have witnessed these effects first-hand – I visited Amsterdam several years ago for New Year’s, an abundance of fireworks were let off around the city and I could physically see and feel the mammoth amount of smoke and pollutants in the air. This nasty cocktail of chemicals, from carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide to sulphur compounds and metal oxides, leave a lasting impact on local air quality and our health.
In 2012, the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, claimed that bonfire night celebrations has a worse effect on the UK’s air quality than the annual emissions from all of the country’s waste incinerators.
This doesn’t make for positive reading, I know. But as I said, I don’t think we should cancel the festivities. I believe we should better educate each other on the real impacts these celebrations have, and we should find a balance between enjoying the evening and caring for our environment. If we all made an individual conscious effort to consider the environmental impact of our own bonfire night celebrations, we could make a collective difference.
Doing Your Bit:
The easiest way to have yourself a greener bonfire night is to attend a public display instead of doing your own. You can share in the fun of a pre-built bonfire without adding to the emissions that night yourself. The Environment Agency recommends these events as they produce less pollution than the potential combined contributions of everyone attending them putting on their own displays.
These events will usually have bigger and better fireworks and large bonfires for everyone to enjoy. This setup limits the amount of waste produced and stops you running the risk of destroying your own back garden or your neighbour’s roof. With plenty of events going on around the country, this is by far the easiest, quickest and cheapest way to do your bit this year.
As previously mentioned, the emissions from bonfire night are prolific and when put into context, the statistics are staggering. But if you insist on having your own bonfire on the night, there are a few simple steps that you can take to reduce environmental impacts.
Try to burn only dry, clean and natural materials such as wood or waste from your own garden. Don’t burn any manmade materials such as plastics, oil, rubber, or anything else with a chemical or plastic coating, as these all produce huge amounts of pollutants. Stay clear of firelighters and instead use dry leaves for kindling, this will hugely reduce the amount of smoke your fire produces. If you’re trying to show off your wilderness abilities, keep it natural – I can guarantee that Bear Grylls doesn’t use firelighters!
Another risk of building bonfires, one that I doubt many people think about, is that they are dream homes for small animals. So if you’re collecting your bonfire wood in advance, pile it all up in a heap and then reassemble it into your bonfire in the desired location on the day. This will help prevent any casualties to critters who find bundles of wood and twigs irresistible. It’s much easier to do it this way than finding your furry friends nesting in your pre-erected bonfire on the day.
Who doesn’t love a good firework display? So if you’re planning on showing off your own pyrotechnic skills this year, why not make the switch to eco-friendly fireworks?
New technologies mean that there are now fireworks available that use compressed air instead of gunpowder to fire shells; this is exactly what Disneyland switched to for their world renowned displays back in 2004. They may be a little harder to find, but knowing that your display will be as eco-friendly as possible will surely be worth it?
If for any reason you cannot find an eco-friendly alternative and you decide to use conventional fireworks, its best to keep the display short and modest. It’s also important to remember that fireworks don’t just disappear after they explode. Your display will cause litter, so an organised sweep of the neighbourhood (the next day in daylight) to clear as much debris as possible is a good start to help to reduce the waste that your display has emitted on your surroundings and the local wildlife. If you’re really conscientious, choose a quiet or ground only pyrotechnics display, such as fountain fireworks and Catherine wheels.
Finally, please consider others. Any pet owner will know that most animals don’t like loud and unexpected noises. Having dogs growing up and a cat now, I can confirm this fact. So please take a moment to consider your own or neighbours pets before conducting a large display in a built up area. Also be aware of your human neighbours who may be of a sensitive disposition and would more than likely appreciate a little warning in advance.
Chinese lanterns have become a popular edition to many celebrations and Guy Fawkes Night is no exception. I have to admit that when released into the sky, they do create an impressive result. But crucially, there is no way to control where these floating candles land. In my opinion, it is best to steer clear of them altogether.
These lanterns can cause serious damage to animals when they fall to the ground. I have heard many stories about cattle having died after eating the metal wiring that is used to hold the lanterns together. There have been other reports of foals being put to sleep due to the shock of falling debris and wildlife dyeing from internal bleeding after ingesting parts or being strangled by the string attached.
Environmental groups have been calling for a complete ban on the release of Chinese lanterns as well as balloons, arguing that they are a danger to wildlife. The National Farmers Union, the RSPCA and the Marine Conservation Society are all in favour of the ban. Shockingly, the amount of litter on UK beaches from balloons and lanterns has nearly doubled in the last decade. Cornwall Council has become one of the first authorities to actually ban the release of balloons and lanterns on public land or at any licensed events as a result in the increase in litter on Cornish beaches – we hope other authorities and councils will follow in their footsteps.