Did you know that, on average, fireworks in the United States release approximately 60,340 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) — on an annual basis — into the air? This is equal to the yearly CO2 emissions from 12,000 cars. As it turns out, despite how beautiful and exciting these types of celebrations can be to viewers, fireworks and firecrackers can cause a large amount of environmental damage. Fireworks and firecrackers can also negatively affect humans and animals, as these loud, sudden noises can be scary to wildlife, pets, veterans with PTSD, and individuals who are sensitive to these types of noises.
Fortunately, there are alternative solutions to celebrating the holidays, which are much better for the environment, your health, and for the well-being of all humans and animals; these solutions are described in detail below and are not meant to be inclusive.
The Environment Impacts Of Fireworks
Source: TRT World/YouTube
Fireworks are a common occurrence throughout the year in the United States, used to celebrate a variety of holidays and special occasions. They are most prevalent in the summer, primarily as a tool for celebrating the 4th of July (aka Independence Day). They can be quite large and draw crowds of hundreds or even thousands, or they can be small and private, perhaps in someone’s backyard. Most towns have certain rules about how late fireworks can be used, as they can be loud, disturbing, and/or distracting to people and animals. However, it’s much easier to regulate public fireworks displays as opposed to private ones.
So, what exactly are fireworks? They use synthetic chemicals, which are usually the cheapest ones to make, and use sulfur and charcoal fuel with a “perchlorate oxidizer, binders, colorants, and propellants.” Gunpowder fuel is made from charcoal, potassium nitrate, and sulfur. Additional metal salts used to make fireworks colorful include barium chloride, calcium chloride, copper chloride, and strontium carbonate, all combined in various ways. Different combinations create different colors. For example, fireworks containing rubidium and strontium will be purple and red, respectively.
Many people appreciate and enjoy the beauty and impressive display of fireworks, and watching them often becomes a family tradition. But, more than likely, most of these people are unaware of the fact that the use of fireworks can add to the world’s air pollution. The most common time to use fireworks is around Independence Day, which produces fireworks that add 42 percent more pollutants into the air than are normally found in the air.
Fireworks exacerbate both water and air pollution, as their chemicals create greenhouse gases and can also harm aquatic life. These particles, such as the smoke from fireworks, can lead to air pollution and worsen air quality. The charcoal base in the gunpowder fuel releases both carbon monoxide and CO2, and the gunpowder’s chemical reaction releases nitrogen. This, in turn, can cause respiratory problems in both humans and wildlife, as the sulfur dioxide released by fireworks makes it more difficult for people to breathe. In addition, the chlorine in the fireworks’ coloring can be toxic to aquatic organisms.
When you see fireworks sputtering to the ground, these chemicals fall and can contaminate water, thereby affecting aquatic life and the local drinking supply. The chemicals don’t simply burn up and continue existing after the fireworks have exploded. In essence, fireworks “release a cocktail of chemicals” out into the world, polluting both water and air. To put it simply: Every single chemical used to make fireworks is harmful to the environment.
Last month, in Canada, residents sought a post-Diwali fireworks ban. Diwali is celebrated around the world, and people in the Toronto area complained; one person said that fireworks went on until 4 a.m. and that their kids had to wear masks the following morning due to difficulty breathing and “a thick fog.” Others spoke out against fireworks, too, some even calling for an all-out ban. Unfortunately, the barrage of calls received via 911 was too much for local authorities to handle, so no change was made.
The Environment Impacts Of Firecrackers
So, what exactly is a firecracker? Well, it’s a relatively small explosive that is mainly designed to be loud, usually via a loud bang. Firecrackers have fuses and are wrapped in heavy paper casings that contain explosive compounds.
As firecrackers are often operated by inexperienced individuals, this can lead to injuries, most commonly burns; firecrackers have also been known to cause lacerations, tissue damage, and, occasionally, fractures. While firecrackers are not nearly as detrimental to the environment as fireworks, firecrackers, of course, can still increase dust and pollutants in the atmosphere. The types of firecrackers that pollute the most are flowerpots, ground spinners, snake tablets, and others.
But what about sparklers? These hand-held fireworks — which are essentially a type of firecracker — are popular in home spaces, but they’re also not good for the environment. Each sparkler consists of an iron rod, a fuel to keep it burning, an oxidizer to produce color, and a binder to, well, bind it all together. Also, not only are sparklers difficult to recycle, but they also emit many of the same pollutants as fireworks.
Alternative Solutions To Fireworks and Firecrackers
- Attend a parade: It’s especially fun to attend parades during such occasions as Memorial Day and Independence Day, and this is a great way to be and feel patriotic without worrying about any of the aforementioned dangerous chemicals.
- Enjoy an eco-friendly, cozy fire: In the fall and/or winter, it’s often fun to make fires outside or inside. However, standard wood-burning fireplaces are harmful to the environment, as it leads to tree reduction and the production of carbon monoxide, methane, nitrogen oxides, and Volatile Organic Compounds. In addition to eco-friendly wood-burning fires, other eco-friendly fires that exist include electric, ethanol, gas, and pellet fireplaces.
- Help others by volunteering: The holiday season is a great time to volunteer your expertise in a variety of ways, such as at an animal shelter, homeless shelter, soup kitchen, etc. You’ll feel very patriotic when helping your fellow citizens.
- Host a vegan BBQ: Want to save animals and the environment while many other people are eating carnivorous meals and watching environmentally disastrous fireworks? A vegan barbecue is a great idea and an excellent way to educate attendees on the benefits of cruelty-free eating; tie this into your reasons for not watching fireworks.
- Use eco-friendly fireworks: Yes, eco-friendly fireworks do exist, and they do emit 15 to 65% less particulate matter than typical fireworks but are still damaging. Do your research and try to find the most environmentally-friendly fireworks you can find if you absolutely must use them.
- Watch public fireworks: If you absolutely must see fireworks, then find a public display and stay as far away as you can; it’s much safer than doing it yourself.
- Play with bubble wrap: Obviously, bubble wrap is not environmentally friendly, as it is plastic; yet, if have some leftover bubble wrap from a package and you’re looking to make some firecracker-adjacent noise, there you go.
What You Can Do
Now that you know that — and how — fireworks and firecrackers can cause environmental damage, hopefully, you’ll reconsider your celebratory plans, especially for notably firework-centric occasions like Independence Day. Feel free to try any of the alternative solutions listed above, or come up with your own. There are so many ways to show your patriotism without utilizing fireworks or firecrackers, and humans, animals, and the planet will thank you for it. When someone asks you to go check out a local fireworks display, kindly tell them why you’ve elected not to tag along and encourage them to follow in your footsteps.
Easy Ways to Help the Planet:
- Eat Less Meat: Download Food Monster, the largest plant-based recipe app on the App Store to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy. You can also buy a hard or soft copy of our favorite vegan cookbooks.
- Reduce Your Fast Fashion Footprint: Take the initiative by standing up against fast fashion pollution and supporting sustainable and circular brands like Tiny Rescue that are raising awareness around important issues through recycled zero-waste clothing designed to be returned and remade over and over again.
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- Do What You Can: Reduce waste, plant trees, eat local, travel responsibly, reuse stuff, say no to single-use plastics, recycle, vote smart, switch to cold water laundry, divest from fossil fuels, save water, shop wisely, donate if you can, grow your own food, volunteer, conserve energy, compost, and don’t forget about the microplastics and microbeads lurking in common household and personal care products!