How to Have a Zero Waste Bonfire Night

bonfire night scene.

Every 5th November the UK’s night skies light up with the colours, sounds, and smells of burning bonfires, extravagant fireworks, and sweet toffee apples. Millions of people attend public firework displays while plenty throw Bonfire Night parties in their gardens. Like most celebrations though, these create lots of extra waste.

Bonfires aren’t good for the environment, the rubbish from used fireworks isn’t recyclable, and there can be more food waste produced with discarded toffee apples and trays of parkin cake. However, we don’t want to extinguish the fun of the 5th of November.

Instead, this guide outlines ways to ensure your celebrations are as low-waste and eco-conscious as possible. Plot how to enjoy Guy Fawkes Night in a low-waste way with these environmentally friendlier Bonfire Night party ideas.

Bonfire Night facts

A few facts about the environmental impact and safety stats associated with Bonfire Night:

  • The levels of soot in the atmosphere during and after bonfire night displays are 100 times higher than usual.
  • The biggest annual spike in particulates across the UK is caused by bonfire night. This includes increases in levels of Sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and particulate matter (PM2.5).
  • Around 200,000 pallets are burned on Bonfire Night across the UK – the equivalent of 35,000 trees.
  • Burning garden waste on a bonfire can cause 30 times the amount of particulate pollution compared to alighting untreated wood.
  • Around 2,000 people go to A&E with fireworks-related injuries every year around bonfire night, according to NHS figures.
  • Most people are treated and sent home but there are about 1,000 hospital admissions in the UK every year due to injuries sustained from letting off fireworks

Attend a public bonfire

Setting off fireworks and having a bonfire in your garden is a fun way to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night but it’s not the most sustainable option. Many councils, pubs, and community clubs host their own Bonfire Night parties. There are many reasons why attending a public display is better for the environment, as it:

  • Minimises emissions as it avoids you from having a bonfire at home that would otherwise add to increased particulate and soot levels in the air.
  • Reduces waste from dead fireworks being littered across the local environment with community displays ensuring all used fireworks and sticks are cleaned up.
  • Creates less noise in your local neighbourhood, which should help cause less upset to any pets.
  • Costs much less than buying fireworks and wood for a bonfire at home.
  • Provides an impressive visual display that’s likely bigger and longer than any event you plan.
people watching public bonfire and fireworks.

Use eco-friendly fireworks

There are plenty of ways to reduce waste and your environmental impact if you’re planning a Bonfire Night party at home. Fireworks are the main focus of the evening, so ensuring these are as environmentally friendly as possible is vital. A greater awareness of the effect fireworks have on the environment means there are now eco-friendly options available.

Eco-friendly fireworks are made with a nitrogen-based fuel that burns cleaner and produces a lot less smoke. They’re designed to reduce atmospheric pollution caused by traditional fireworks that have charcoal and sulphur fuel. Currently, they’re not as easy to find but making the effort to source eco-friendly fireworks is worth it for a sustainable Bonfire Night.

How to dispose of fireworks

Fireworks aren’t environmentally friendly, and they can’t be recycled whether they’re used or not. Unfortunately, paper wrapping, plastic packaging, and any wooden sticks with fireworks aren’t recyclable due to contamination. Responsible disposal is vital to avoid accidental fires. Here’s how to dispose of fireworks safely depending on their type:

  • Any used fireworks that went off should be disposed of in your general waste bin.
  • Unused fireworks can be stored safely and used at future celebrations or donated to an organisation that can make use of them.
  • Misfired fireworks should be submerged in water for 48 hours and then placed in a plastic bag inside your general waste bin.

Skip the sky lanterns

Sky lanterns are a more recent addition to some Bonfire Night celebrations. They might look impressive illuminating the night sky but they’re terrible for the environment and quite dangerous. This is because sky lanterns are essentially pretty bits of rubbish on fire floating around that eventually fall to earth.

The fuel that lights and lifts off the sky lanterns isn’t great for the atmosphere but it’s when they land that the problems start. They can set fire to dry materials near where they land, choke or get caught up in any animals, and end up in our waterways. Skip the sky lanterns this Bonfire Night.

Build a better bonfire

Burning rubbish might sound like a great way to avoid any non-recyclable waste ending up in landfill, but you should avoid this. Building a bonfire with household waste, plastics, wet wood, and many other materials can pollute the air, create lots of smoke, and an unpleasant smell.

Burning many waste types is also illegal with a potential fine of up to £50,000. As well as environmental concerns there are also safety risks, so fires must be held in a secure place with plenty of water nearby. If you’re planning a bonfire then here’s how to have one in the most environmentally friendly way:

  • Only burn dry, untreated, and unpainted scrap wood. Any wood that could be reused, repurposed, or recycled shouldn’t be burned, as this isn’t sustainable. This includes garden waste, which it’s better to compost rather than burn on a fire.
  • Just use small amounts of paper or cardboard to help start the fire. Recycling paper and cardboard is the best way to dispose of these materials, so don’t burn loads on your bonfire.
  • Check the weather forecast as it’s best to have bonfires on clear nights with no wind or mist to minimise their impact.
  • Look into the bonfire before lighting it to ensure no hedgehogs or other animals are living inside. Building the bonfire on the day helps reduce this risk.
  • Dispose of ash properly after your bonfire has burned out. Ensure it’s cooled down and then you can add pure wood ash to a compost heap.
Learn about ash disposal
bonfire of burning pallets.

Make an environmentally friendly Guy

Throwing an effigy of Guy Fawkes onto a bonfire is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. The most environmentally friendly action is to not bother making a Guy as it introduces extra materials that may release toxic emissions when burnt. There are a few ways to make it a bit eco-friendlier though.

Find some old clothes, such as a shirt and trousers or a pair of pyjamas. Ideally, these should be in a state beyond reuse, such as ripped or stained. Lightweight items made from untreated natural fibres like cotton or linen are best as they should burn quickly, easily, and release fewer toxins.

Make the head from an old linen pillowcase. Avoiding plastic or synthetic materials prevents the release of harmful chemicals. Then stuff the clothes and head with old and dry paper (including newspaper). Use some string or thread to tie up the wrists, ankles, and any other gaps, and then he’s ready for the bonfire.

Reduce food waste and recycle

There are sure to be plenty of autumn treats and drinks flowing at your Bonfire Night party. Careful planning helps reduce and even eliminate any food waste and packaging waste being created. Here are a few easy ways to reduce food waste on Guy Fawkes Night:

  • Put toffee apples on sustainable sticks such as bamboo or wooden skewers rather than plastic ones.
  • Recycle all aluminium drink cans and any glass wine or beer bottles. Have a station where people can leave them before cleaning them out and recycling them.
  • Ditch the disposable plates and cutlery by using any picnic plates or your daily crockery.
  • Box up any leftovers so your guests can take them home and you don’t get left with an overwhelming amount of food.
  • Compost any waste food that gets spoiled or can’t be kept or eaten at a later date.
Discover how to reduce food waste
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