Our long-standing November tradition of fireworks and bonfires is having a damaging impact on people, pets and the planet.

Guy Fawkes Night, or more commonly, bonfire night, is a centuries-old tradition in the UK. On November 5th – and often several days around it – the skies are alight with colourful fireworks and the glow of burning embers. But these celebrations are having a devastating impact on the environment – not only through chemical-laden and packaging-heavy fireworks, but by filling the air with smog and smoke.

In fact, Defra says that bonfire night celebrations have a greater impact on air quality in the UK than the country’s yearly emissions from waste incinerators. As such, it’s a sensible idea to avoid running and heavy outdoor exercise during the period surrounding fireworks night – such polluted air can have a very damaging impact on your health.

Not only that, but emergency hospital admissions spike around November 5th. Last year nearly 4,500 people in England alone attended A&E with injuries from fireworks – double the number in 2009-10. And on top of that, fireworks can be frightening for children, the elderly and vulnerable, and dangerous for wild animals and pets.

But action against these issues is slowly gaining traction. Major UK supermarket Sainsbury’s, for example, recently announced it will stop selling fireworks at its 2,300 stores across the country. Meanwhile, petitions to ban the public sale of fireworks are gaining increasing prominence. Last year one such petition attracted over 300,000 signatures, while some 750,000 people have signed a series of similar petitions over the last three years.

So what’s to be done? In an ideal world, of course, we’d simply find another quieter, safer and less wasteful way to celebrate November 5th and its historical connotations. But for many, fireworks and bonfires are an integral part of proceedings, as well as a major highlight for kids. Short of ignoring bonfire night altogether, then, there are some steps you can take to reduce its related negative impacts.

  1. Attend an organised public fireworks display

It’s better to contain the noise and pollution to one place than see it dispersed across a wider area. Plus, leaving fireworks to the pros will significantly reduce the risk of getting an injury from a garden display – and it’ll make for a far more spectacular show.

  1. Build a greener bonfire

If you’re absolutely set on having your own bonfire, a few simple switches will make it slightly kinder to the environment. Burn only clean, dry and natural materials and absolutely avoid burning anything with a chemical or plastic coating, as this will produce a huge amount of pollutants. Steering clear of firelighters and using dry leaves as kindling will also help reduce the amount of smoke your bonfire produces.

  1. Check for animals

As natural spaces continue to decline, little critters such as hedgehogs are increasingly moving into urban gardens, and will frequently take up residency among garden foliage. Be sure to check your bonfire thoroughly before you light it to make sure you’re not putting any animals at risk.

  1. Be selective with your fireworks

Unfortunately, ‘eco-friendly fireworks’ that use compressed air instead of gunpowder have yet to gain any real traction – they’re hard to find and are still pretty expensive. However, there are still ways to reduce your individual impact a little. According to green energy company Ecotricity, white coloured fireworks generally contain fewer harmful chemicals, and ground-based fireworks such as Catherine wheels make it easier to find debris and dispose of it safely.

  1. Avoid sky lanterns

Some eco evangelists claim sky lanterns make a good alternative to fireworks because they don’t release any chemicals or smoke into the air, and while that is true, they still pose a massive risk to wildlife, with animals becoming trapped in the metal wire and burned embers ending up in animal feed. Avoid.

As the world wakes up to the devastating environmental impact of so many of its everyday activities, celebrations such as bonfire night will increasingly come under the spotlight. Only by moving together as a whole society on these challenges will we see meaningful change, and this November 5th is as good a time to start as any.

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