How do Fireworks work? (...and are fireworks bad for the environment?)

How do Fireworks work? (...and are fireworks bad for the environment?)

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When we think of the Fourth of July, we can’t help but think of the traditional go-tos: backyard barbeques, the Star-Spangled Banner, and of course, fireworks. But, are fireworks bad for the environment? Read on to find out how fireworks work, to see how they affect our air quality, and to get some eco-friendly alternatives to watching Fourth of July fireworks displays.

How do fireworks work?

Fireworks are made from metal-based salts – and the metal in these fireworks will determine the color you’ll see streak across the sky. For example, lithium salts create pink. Sodium salts produce yellow or orange. Copper and barium salts can make green or blue, and calcium or strontium generate the color red.


And this is bad…how?

When these fireworks explode, the metal salts combine with oxygen, releasing gases like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen – all major greenhouse gases.

After this chemical reaction, the metal in these salts has to go somewhere. It oftentimes ends up lingering in the air, water and soil – with water and soil pollution increasing once chemicals in the air return to the earth as rain. While each chemical can have its own negative effects, what many of them have in common is that they’re considered to be “Persistent, Bioaccumulative, and Toxic chemicals” (PBTs). This means that once they have an opportunity to build up, it can be very difficult to reverse their effects.

These effects in particular can be seen on a larger scale in our cities and our theme parks, where we tend to more frequently see large-scale fireworks displays. In 2019 in Delhi, a city already plagued with high levels of air pollution, a massive fireworks display celebrating the Diwali festival of lights surged the air pollution levels to max out the Air Quality Index in many parts of the city. In London, a 3-week study spanned two holidays celebrated with fireworks. This study found increases in greenhouse gases related to climate change, as well as trace concentrates of the metal particulates used in the fireworks.

In short when it comes to fireworks, what you explode in the air stays in the air, affecting air quality and climate change in the process. This year for your backyard Fourth of July celebration, ditch the pyrotechnics. For lots of us it can be hard to imagine the holiday without the sparkle and boom of fireworks – but not to worry. We’ve got you covered with some of these eco-friendly ways to make your celebrations Fourth-of-July festive!

Festive family activities


Bring the color from the skies to your own backyard! There are plenty of family activities that can take your home décor up a notch while still having the pomp and circumstance your family loves. All-natural sidewalk chalk is a great place to start – cover every inch of your driveway and sidewalk with stars, stripes and images of fireworks, and you’ve got yourself a festive-looking setup (look no further than our Hop Scotch Sidewalk Chalk from eco-kids).

Reusable plates are always the eco-friendliest option – but if you’re limited to single-use items this year, skip the plastic plates and cups and instead use compostable paper products. But before you serve, spruce up the look of your plates with a fun family activity! Beets can make for a great all-natural dye. Drizzle some red dye on your paper plates in the pattern of your choice (try these large compostable plates by Preserve), dab with a towel and let the plates dry completely – and just like that, you’ve got an amazing-looking tablescape for your Fourth of July meal!

If you find yourself in a place where you can’t serve with single-use compostable cups, we’ve got you covered there as well – for your #6, hard-to-recycle rigid plastic party cups, responsibly recycle them with TerraCycle, where you can be sure your waste will be zero waste.

Bring some red, white and boom to your wardrobe

Now that your home feels like the Fourth of July, why not extend that to your own look for the day? There are plenty of easy ways to achieve that – you just need to know where to find them!


Short on fun and festive clothing items in your closet? Some next-level red, white and blue socks might do the trick. Donning a pair of these Stars & Stripes Crew Cut Socks from Solmate will give your outfit a fun focal point without worrying about putting together a complicated ensemble.

Remember the dye we used on our plates above? Save some of that dye to dial up the fun on a white t-shirt or hat!

Give your face some decorative sparkle and color! A touch of highlighter packs a glittery punch – we love the silver-toned Beam Highlighter Cream from Fat and the Moon. This tin of star-colored magic is all-natural, and great for all skin types. Or some bold, red lipstick might be all you need. We recommend this Brazen Crème Organic Lipstick by Elate Cosmetics.

Bask in the stars and stripes – the old-fashioned way


Top off your Fourth of July celebration by staring up at the sky the eco-friendly way, with some stargazing! Find yourself a star map (the Sky Map app is a great tool) and when the sky is clear, find yourself a comfortable spot outside and take in the stars and stripes the way Mother Nature intended.

If you live in the city, to find a spot with clearer sky, check out the Dark Sky Map, where you can find areas near you with less light pollution.

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