The Fourth of July is just around the corner, which means BBQs, family get-togethers, and of course Fireworks. Large displays of fireworks have been going on since literally the first Independence Day anniversary celebration all the way back in 1777, and they don’t look like they’re stopping anytime soon. That said, between falling debris and heavy chemicals in the air, fireworks are not the greatest thing for the environment. So is there a way to make fireworks more sustainable, and is there something we can do to help?
The first question to ask is if the idea of an eco-friendly firework is even possible. Unfortunately, overall the answer is no, there’s not really a way to explode a rocket in the air that’ll be truly eco-friendly. The way fireworks work is by burning chemicals like barium and petrochlorate, to produce specific colors, and that really can’t be truly replaced in a way that’s both safe for the people shooting fireworks and gets the same effect. That said, you can still reduce the effects of the fireworks, so while they might not be fully eco-friendly they will still be friendlier than the traditional ones.
The Disney Company, the US’s largest firework buyer, is a big proponent of better fireworks. In 2004, they switched from a gunpowder launch to an air compressor launch, which burns less chemicals and uses less material overall. Disney also approached chemists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory to produce a less-toxic firework, which eventually led to the creation of the company DMD systems, which produces low smoke and perchlorate-free fireworks which can even be shot indoors. The other big investor into green firework technology is the US Army, surprisingly. While they’re actually looking for green munitions technology (which is a bit of a head spinner, but until war becomes obsolete then I guess “green” battlefield tech is better than not) the technology is still very usable for civilian firework use. And there are of course other things fireworks manufacturers and shooters can do to make the process better, such as using recyclable packaging, planning your shots to make sure that the spent fireworks are easy to find, and picking less-toxic colors to use for the displays. Ironically the color green, which comes from barium, is one of the most toxic, so stick with the good old red, white, and blue.
So what can you, the 4th of July enthusiast, do to make your firework display better. The first thing you can do if you’re really set on making a more eco-friendly 4th of July is to petition for and support laser light shows. You can think of these as the eco-version of fireworks, but it is very understandable that for a one day a year celebration you’d want real fireworks. In that case the best thing to do is carpool to a community event. One event for the whole town is always going to be better than a bunch of smaller events in everyone’s households. Get involved in your community planning and push for your township to purchase greener fireworks for their 4th of July celebrations. And if you are doing something in your backyard, check your backyard while it’s still light out for nests and wildlife so you don’t disturb them, choose smaller noiseless fireworks so as not to cause noise pollution (you dog with thank you) and be sure that everything is easy to find and clean up. And of course, don’t forget to make the barbecue green as well.