Is there such a thing as Eco-Friendly Fireworks? And can we have an eco-friendly Bonfire Night???

We all remember that rhyme from school...."Remember Remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot. We see no reason, why gunpowder treason, should ever be forgot!"

Traditional fireworks have 5 elements:

  1. Stick (Tail) The first thing you notice is a long wooden or plastic stick protruding from the bottom that ensures the firework shoots in a straight line. That's important for two reasons. First, so that fireworks go where you intend to and don't fly in a random direction, causing fires, property damage, or injuries. Second, because it helps display organisers to position firework effects with accuracy and precision. Some fireworks now have hinged plastic sticks so they can be sold in smaller and more compact boxes. (note the PLASTIC)

  2. Fuse This is the part that starts the main part of the firework (the charge) burning and ignites other, smaller fuses that make the interesting, colourful parts of the firework (the effects) explode some time later. In a basic home firework, the main fuse consists of a piece of paper or fabric that you light with a match or cigarette lighter. In a complex public firework display, fuses are lit by electrical contacts known as wirebridge fuseheads. When the firework technician pushes a button, an electric current flows along a wire into the fusehead, making it burn briefly so it ignites the main fuse. Unlike manual ignition, electrical ignition can be done at a considerable distance, so it's much safer.

  3. Charge (motor) The charge is a relatively crude explosive designed to blast a firework up into the sky, sometimes a distance of several hundred meters (1000ft or so) at a speed of up to several hundred km/miles per hour (as fast as a jet fighter)! It's usually made up of tightly packed, coarse explosive gunpowder (also known as black powder). Traditionally, gunpowder used in fireworks was made of 75 percent potassium nitrate (also called saltpeter) mixed with 15 percent charcoal and 10 percent sulphur; modern fireworks sometimes use other mixtures (such as sulphur-less powder with extra potassium nitrate) or other chemicals instead. Note that the charge simply sends the firework high into the air and clear of any spectators; it doesn't make the spectacular explosions you can actually see.

  4. Effect This is the part of the firework that makes the amazing display once the firework is safely high in the air. A single firework will have either one effect or multiple effects, packed into separate compartments, firing off in sequence, ignited by a relatively slow-burning, time-delay fuse working its way upward and ignited by the main fuse. (The firework illustrated here has three effects.) Though essentially just explosives, the effects are quite different from the main charge. Each one is made up of more loosely packed, finer explosive material often fashioned into separate "stars," which make up the small, individual, colourful explosions from a larger firework. Depending on how each effect is made and packed, it can either create a single explosion of stars very quickly or shoot off a large number of mini fireworks in different directions, causing a series of smaller explosions in a breathtaking, predetermined sequence.

  5. Head This is the general name for the top part of the firework containing the effect or effects (collectively known as the payload—much like the load in a space rocket). Sometimes the head has a pointed plastic "nose cone" to make the firework faster and more aerodynamic and improve the chance of it going in a straight line, though many fireworks simply have a blunt end.

This can cause a lot of needless waste to the environment when they explode. What's left behind on the ground when fireworks explode is plastic, paper, card, But it does much more to the environment that we originally anticipated. 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. 

So, how do we make Fireworks GREENER?

If you are interested in limiting the impact, it is a good idea to ask about eco-friendly options from your retailer. Furthermore, you want to pay attention to the ‘leftovers’. Always clear the display area of the waste and separate any recyclable materials from the non-recyclable.

You should also add other fun elements to your display. Catherine Wheels are a nice alternative and can be less harmful for the environment. Furthermore, you could include glow sticks and music to your display! You won’t need as many fireworks, yet the show will be as spectacular as ever.

The colour choices you make can also have an impact! If you want to limit the use of barium, for example, skip the green fireworks. White, red and blue don’t contain as much of this chemical and are therefore ‘greener’.

The industry is constantly innovating and looking for new products – no doubt, more eco-friendly fireworks will also become more common in the future.

The question soon will that be???

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