Are fireworks vegan? Should they go out with a bang?
Bang. Another intrusion of fireworks. A dog, your local fox, a noise-sensitive human are scared, anxious and stressed. It’s not only bonfire night or New Year’s Eve when gunpowder shoots into the sky; the rise of fireworks throughout the year significantly harms animals, people and the environment.
UK petitions calling for restrictions on the sale and use of fireworks by the general public have attracted around 750,000 signatures. After three debates in Westminster Hall, MPs on the Petitions Committee stated that the Government “had no intention of changing legislation leaving those who signed the petition feeling frustrated and ignored.” Many people believe an outright ban of fireworks is in order if the UK is serious about climate change and preventing harm to wildlife.
Are fireworks vegan?
Fireworks contain stearic acid to increase their shelf-life. Stearic acid is a long-chain fatty acid that can be sourced from plants but is much more commonly derived from animals, so most fireworks are not vegan.
Does that mean plant-based fireworks are cruelty-free? The Vegan Society defines veganism as excluding “all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” Fireworks can emit sounds of up to 190 decibels, which can lead to hearing loss, especially for animals that have sensitive hearing, such as dogs; fireworks are an intense experience for them. “This may mean heart rate increase, adrenaline rush, and a burst of stress hormones.” Bees become disoriented and cannot find their hives. Birds have panic attacks and die. Wild animals raising babies abandon their dens. Fish die from ingesting firework debris.
Wild animals are especially at risk from firecrackers that explode near them as they are poisonous and release harmful particles such as fine dust (PM10) that is toxic to inhale.
26% of New Zealand equine keepers reported horse injuries from fireworks. Being unpredictable flight animals, horses react to loud noises and flashing lights, potentially resulting in severe accidents for the horse and handler. As it is apparent that sudden loud noise and toxicity of fireworks induce trauma and harm to animals, releasing fireworks cannot be vegan.
Are fireworks discriminatory?
The Petition select committee expressed concern for “substantial adverse effects on people with an extensive range of health conditions and disabilities”, including people with “autistic spectrum disorders and people with hearing problems like hyperacusis”. More than half of young people with autism have sensory over-responsivity (SOR), an extremely adverse reaction to sensory stimuli. Loud and sudden noise can also trigger people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including military veterans and people with dementia.
Discrimination is “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people.” Fireworks cause harm to vulnerable members of society and so, by definition, discriminate. Gov.org recognises indirect discrimination as “putting rules or arrangements in place that apply to everyone, but that put someone with a protected characteristic at an unfair disadvantage.” One could argue that someone with PTSD, dementia or autism (all protected disabilities under the Equality Act 2010) and who is subjected to loud and intrusive noise from fireworks, is at an unfair disadvantage.
Are fireworks bad for the environment?
Studies in China show a significant spike in air pollution after midnight New Year’s Eve firework displays. While fireworks are brief, they leave “extraordinarily high levels of airborne particulate matter,” resulting in stringent regulations around fireworks to prevent health and environmental impact in China.
A study over a city during Diwali in India proved high toxicity levels due to burning firecrackers and fireworks, which inject aerosols into the atmosphere and cause radioactivity. The reported values were “three to four times higher than the National Ambient Air Quality Standards”. Studies conducted during Guy Fawkes night in London showed airborne matter exceeded regulatory limit values, which can increase respiratory issues.
Attempts to produce environmentally friendly fireworks have backfired; according to a review by The American Chemical Society, “due to a large number of fireworks used, the air quality is still significantly deteriorated.” So, are fireworks bad for the environment? Yes, they contribute to radioactivity and pollution, which also impact health.
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Dangerous to manufacture
Employees manufacturing fireworks are working with dangerous substances. In the year 2000, a disaster occurred in the Netherlands where a firework factory exploded in Enschede, resulting in the death of 22 people, injuring over 500 people and destroying 1000 houses. Other studies from Enschede documented a rise in psychological problems due to the disaster.
The law and why Government won’t ban fireworks
The law in the UK takes a laissez-faire stance on acquiring and setting off fireworks. It is legal in the UK for consumers over eighteen to purchase and let off fireworks from licensed sellers any time of the year without requiring licensing or training (note: Northern Ireland has different rules). Notifying neighbours is not a legal requirement, which means fewer opportunities for people to enact preventive measures.
The rationale for the Government not banning the sale of fireworks included favouring commerciality over the harm caused, backed by the fireworks industry. Some community groups argued that their displays raised funds for local causes; however, there are safer and more environmentally friendly alternatives, such as laser light shows.
The Government has circumvented the issues raised by petitions by reiterating that fireworks must “have safety warnings on the label”, putting the onus of safety on individuals rather than stopping the problem at the source. They even go as far as blaming the weather for the increased dispersion of pollutants. Unreassuringly they will be “engaging with Local Authorities and animal welfare organisations to better understand what specific issues they face”, despite animal welfare groups raising their specific concerns for some time.
What can you do to keep your loved ones safe?
Fireworks cause trauma to creatures and humans, rendering them cruel. They are not vegan, directly (what they are made from) and indirectly (harm they cause), and discriminate against vulnerable societal groups. Check out practical guides for keeping animals safe, managing PTSD over firework season, helping autistic children cope, and supporting a person with dementia.
What can you do to reduce fireworks? If someone you know is privately considering using them, suggest alternative ways to celebrate with inclusive practices. Write to your local MP and state your concerns regarding fireworks scheduled in your area.
For more on fighting climate change read unearth the carbon footprint of your dinner with The Floop app: Launching today, and get inspired by VG Coffee: The power of starting a petition.