How to have an eco-friendlier bonfire night
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot!
When I was young, Fireworks Night was marked with a small box of roman candles and bangers in the garden. Since that time in the early 80s, organised fireworks displays have become much more common, with ever grander effects and ever higher price tags for tickets! But are the fireworks and bonfires that accompany Guy Fawkes' Night eco-friendly? Unfortunately for pyrotechnics lovers, not at all.
In order to create all those fiery colours, fireworks contain all kinds of toxic nasties, including lead and chromium. As Environmental Protection UK puts it, "a cocktail of chemicals" is released into the air as they explode. Also, many 'aerial' fireworks are built inside plastic casings. When the fireworks go up, frayed pieces of non-biodegradable plastic scatter over a wide area.
Bonfires aren't innocent either. In the days around Bonfire Night, 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.
Scientists have reportedly come up with a way to make 'green', non-harmful fireworks, but apparently the costs of production mean these aren't likely to make it into the shops anytime soon. So, how can we have a greener Guy Fawkes' Night? Most of us will want to have some kind of traditional celebration, but is there a way to minimise the damage?
- Pick a good evening for it
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, no matter how much the children beg!
- Choose non-plastic fireworks
If you're going to let off fireworks at home, examine before buying to check for plastic parts. Rockets are the main culprits, so double check these.
- Take care with your bonfire
Bonfire Night without a bonfire just wouldn't be Bonfire Night, would it? Follow our tips to make your bonfire as eco-friendly as possible...
Need to find wood? Put out an ad on your local Freecycle or Freegle group and you could end up helping to dispose of wood that might otherwise end up in a skip and then potentially in landfill. Avoid any with varnishes, paint or creosote - this could produce some very nasty smoke.
On the night, move the wood from where it's been stored, don't just set it alight. Often hedgehogs and other wildlife will make a winter home in woodpiles, so it's important to give them due warning.
Check the direction the wind is blowing to choose the best position for your bonfire. You will want to be upwind of the smoke so your family is not breathing in the soot particles, but take neighbours into account too.
Start small and feed the fire only when it starts to die down. As well as being a good strategy to ensure your fire never gets out of control, this also means you'll be burning a smaller amount of wood over the evening and so releasing less pollution.
Bonfires can be useful too! This is the perfect time to get rid of any perennial weeds such as knotweed and bindweed.
- The next day
The morning after your celebrations, clear up all the firework remnants. This will help ensure that none of the toxins are washed into the soil by rain.
The ash from the cold bonfire is rich in potassium, if you can keep it dry. Sprinkle it onto your compost to raise the alkalinity and encourage those redworms to get stuck in. It's also great for gooseberry and current bushes if you dig a shovelful in around the roots.