Happy New Year… or is it?

On 31 December 2019, millions of people welcomed in the brand new decade with fireworks. However, do you really know the cost of these bright, celebratory displays to our environment?

A brief history of fireworks

The origins of fireworks is often debated between two theories. Some believe that they were created in China during 600 and 900 A.D. when alchemists mixed a bunch of chemicals together in the hope of producing a recipe for eternal life – they then used these newly discovered explosives to ward away evil spirits. Whilst others believe that fireworks were actually created in the Middle East or India.

Over the centuries, this explosive gunpowder has been used on the field of battle to fight enemies, as part of religious ceremonies and of course, like many people do today, to celebrate the beginning of a new year.

The impact fireworks have on our environment and wildlife

“New Year’s fireworks – It’s only one night out of 365, so surely it isn’t as bad as everyone makes out?” It’s not uncommon to hear people say this as the season fast approaches – even the Australian Prime Minister refused to cancel the capital’s annual fireworks display despite the raging wildfires that are currently causing devastation across the country. But is 60 minutes of entertainment really worth the long-term effects it has?

This was the scene I was met with on New Year’s Day when taking the dogs out for a walk with my father-in-law. The streets of the little village in which my in-law’s live, were littered with pieces of cardboard, plastic and wood – all left behind by the fireworks that were set off in celebration less than 12 hours before. This unnecessary rubbish can easily become a choking hazard to any wildlife (or pets) who mistake it for food. Many animals, such as birds, will often use it to build their nests too instead of using natural materials.

However, it’s not just the physical litter that’s the problem. All fireworks, upon explosion, release a harmful cocktail of chemicals into the atmosphere, which affects air quality. Take the two following images for example. The one on the left was taken on New Year’s Eve, whereas the one on the right was taken on New Year’s Day. The smoke created by the dozen or so firework display’s in the surrounding area (some of which lasted almost an hour), combined with a drastic drop in temperature, caused this incredibly dense fog.

As well as the litter they leave behind and the effect is has on air quality, the setting off of fireworks commonly causes animals – both wild and domesticated – great distress. According to the British Horse Society, 20 horses were reported to have died and almost 100 horses suffered injuries in 2010 as a result of fireworks. The sudden flashes and loud noises can easily startle animals – birds, for example, have even been known to abandon their nests and offspring.

The future of fireworks displays

Many wildlife/environment-carers and charities are calling for stronger laws and regulations when it comes to the use of fireworks. I believe that there are a number of things that could be implemented to improve the welfare of our wildlife and surrounding environment when it comes to fireworks…

  • Set a specific time for when fireworks can be used to celebrate the New Year – for example between midnight and 00:15am local time;
  • Address the chemicals used in fireworks to reduce the effects they have on polluting the air and environment;
  • Only sell fireworks to specific licence holders and permit one display per town/city to reduce the impact on residential and wild areas;
  • Organise local clean-up events on the morning of New Year’s Day in a bid to remove as much firework debris as possible;
  • Or better yet, instead of using fireworks, celebrate the New Year with a laser show that projects the image of fireworks into the sky and is set to music.

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