Every 5 November, the night skies across England are lit up in spectacular firework displays to herald in Bonfire Night.
Bonfire Night has been celebrated for centuries ever since Guy Fawkes’ plot to blow up the House of Lords was foiled.
The night of decadent fireworks has come under much criticism due to the detrimental impact that it has on the environment. According to the Environmental Protection UK, “a cocktail of chemicals”, including toxic substances such as lead and chromium, is released into the air as they explode.
Many “aerial” fireworks are built inside plastic casings, and when the fireworks go up, frayed pieces of non-biodegradable plastic scatter over a wide area.
What you place on the bonfire also impacts the environment as well as people’s health. Burning certain types of materials such as plastics, rubber and treated wood can be harmful to both the environment and people.
Air pollution levels in some areas of the UK spike dramatically above recommended levels. Tiny particles of soot fill the air, causing serious problems for those who suffer from asthma and other lung conditions.
“Green” fireworks, that are non-harmful, are available but they are hard to come by and the costs of production mean these are unlikely to make it into the shops anytime soon.
That said, it is still possible to have an eco-friendly Bonfire Night. Here are some of the ways in which you can make this year’s Bonfire Night, whichever day you choose to celebrate it, a “green” or eco-friendly one:
Pick the right night:
If you are putting on your own Bonfire Night, the weather plays a huge factor in when to do it. The general rule is to choose a night when the air is clear with a light breeze.
According to Green Redeem: “If the night air is still and misty, then the effects of pollution are intensified. Try to choose a night when the air is clear with a light breeze. Obviously, setting off fireworks or having a bonfire in a stiff wind is not to be recommended.”
Choose non-plastic fireworks:
Eco-friendly fireworks are pretty hard to come by, so instead eliminate plastics from your choice. Check for plastic parts before buying fireworks, if you are organising your own fireworks display. Rockets are said to be the biggest culprit in terms of containing plastic parts.
Re-evaluate the colour display:
As beautiful as fireworks can be, they cause a lot of pollution in the air, releasing harmful chemicals in the air that can remain for days. White-coloured fireworks tend to have fewer harmful chemicals than the most colourful version.
Use natural materials on the Bonfire:
In the UK, it is illegal to burn most types of waste and setting fire to treated wood, tyres, plastics, rubber and oil can seriously harm health and pollute the environment.
Bonfires have a negative impact on air quality. According to The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the government department responsible for safeguarding the natural environment, bonfires produce more emissions on a single night than those from anentire year of waste incineration.
On Bonfire Night, avoid burning firelighters, oil, rubber, plastics or anything with a chemical coating. Opt instead for natural materials – leaves and other garden waste as well as untreated wood.
Ditch the sky lanterns:
While sky lanterns look pretty, they have they been known to start forest fires, and are hazardous to wildlife.
Be aware that while many companies claim the body of their lanterns to be biodegradable, the wire frame used in sky lanterns is not and is harmful especially to wildlife.
Watch out for hedgehogs:
Wildlife such as hedgehogs are increasingly moving into urban gardens. Garden log piles often provide crucial shelter and food for these mammals at a time when they’re preparing for hibernation.
To prevent trapping any unsuspecting creatures, the best thing you can do is to build your bonfire on the day of lighting. Otherwise, relocate your bonfire before you light it, so you can be sure to leave any animals safely out of harm’s way.
Attend a public display
Ultimately, the most eco-friendly way to participate in Bonfire Night is to avoid creating your own. Gathering in one place for a bigger display will result in fewer emissions than individuals organising their own garden events.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea