Bonfire Night always feels to us like the night that winter really begins (even if that’s not for another month!). It’s the beginning of the winter festivities, and there’s nothing quite like wrapping up warm with a flask of tea to watch a firework display that lights up the night sky.
The tradition of celebrating Bonfire Night in the UK dates back to 1605 and Guy Fawkes’ failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament. To celebrate King James I’s survival of the Gunpowder Plot, people in the UK lit bonfires, and they have done every year since.
Over four hundred years, our conceptions of the world have changed (that might be a bit of an understatement…). It makes sense, then, that the way we celebrate Bonfire Night should change – and our priority is, of course, in making it as eco friendly as it can possibly be.
Bonfires are a source of air pollution, especially when what’s being burned isn’t natural (like rubber, petrol and other chemicals). It’s safer and more eco-friendly to make a smaller fire, made from natural, dry materials like wood and paper. You might even want to opt for a fire-free bonfire night, with artificial light displays instead, to save polluting the air even further.
Make sure, if you are building a bonfire, not to build it too far in advance of lighting it: not only do you run the risk of your bonfire getting damp in the inevitable November rain, but there’s a danger that animals like hedgehogs might mistake your bonfire for a shelter, and try to nestle inside. You should always make sure your bonfire is free of animals before lighting it!
Fireworks, too, contain harmful chemicals that pollute the air, which is one of the reasons that large-scale fireworks displays are getting fewer and further between. It’s best to attend a public fire display, not just for health and safety reasons, but also so as not to further contribute to the pollution caused by fireworks. You might want to volunteer to collect the litter left behind from firework remnants that fall to the ground (and litter left by those who haven’t been so careful with their sweets and drinks!).
Energy company, Ecotricity say that white fireworks are generally better for the environment, because they have less chemicals than the ones that have been used to dye coloured fireworks. They also suggest that fireworks that are ground-based, like Catherine Wheels, might be a more eco-friendly option, as there is less potential for debris to be spread further afield.
And what about sparklers? It feels like a vital part of Bonfire Night is watching the fireworks with your own sparkler in hand, but unfortunately, they’re difficult to dispose of sustainably. They can’t be recycled because of the fuel and oxidisers in them, and emit chemicals into the environment, just like fireworks. A better option might be to ditch the sparklers this year, and opt for candles or reusable, eco-friendly lights (perhaps solar powered ones) that won’t pollute the environment, and can last far longer than sparklers do.
When it comes to picking chemical-free alternatives to sparklers and fireworks, some argue that sky lanterns are a good alternative. However, while these lanterns don’t need chemicals to get going, once they set off they can end up anywhere. That means in animals’ natural habitats, on land and in water. It’s best to ditch these lanterns altogether, as well as any kind of waste product that you can’t keep an eye on: it’s always best to know exactly where your litter is going once you’re finished with it.
A zero-waste Bonfire Night might be impossible if you want to celebrate in the traditional way – but just because something’s traditional, it doesn’t necessarily mean we should keep doing it. Sometimes, a break in tradition is exactly what’s needed to keep things sustainable and fun.
So this Bonfire Night, why not try swapping the sparklers for solar-powered torches, the bonfire for candles and the fireworks for smaller scale light displays? That way, there’s still a chance to enjoy all the fun of Bonfire Night in your own home, as well as at the public display.