Young Reporters for the Environment

Bonfire Nights Really Burn!

We all know the classic celebration of a bonfire. One of the most iconic bonfire celebrations is the one that takes place in Northern Ireland on the 11th July or on the ‘eleventh night’ as it is more commonly known. Materials burned on these bonfires consist mainly of wooden pallets and rubber tyres. The burning of such waste directly creates polluted air; the air around Belfast can rise to nearly twice as dangerous as the accepted international level on this popular night in July.

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There is a common belief that wood burning is good for the environment because it is “carbon neutral”, however this has been disproven. The smoke that is released during wood burning contains a mixture of Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Nitrogen Dioxide and Methane. Even though the Carbon Dioxide is neutral, the nitrogen dioxide released (200g per 1000g of wood burnt) is 300 times more potent than CO2, stays in the atmosphere for 120 years and directly contributes to global warming. Methane is also released during wood burning (70g per 1000g of wood burnt); it is 70 times more potent than CO2 and is one of the leading causes of global warming. Also, by cutting down trees we are directly destroying habitats for hundreds of birds, insects and countless other things. By having less trees to absorb CO2, we are indirectly increasing the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere.

When we burn rubber tyres we release a smog that contains a number of gases: cyanide, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide. When sulphur dioxide reacts with water in the atmosphere, it turns into sulphuric acid (acid rain) which causes deforestation. When carbon monoxide reacts with the atmosphere it takes OH ions out of the atmosphere and turns into our best friend; Carbon dioxide. Also, Methane reacts with OH ions, to reduce the concentration of the gas, but since we are removing the OH ions, we are indirectly increasing the concentration of methane in our atmosphere, increasing global warming and polluting our skies.

I propose a solution to the wood burning problem by putting a cap on the amount of wood that people can burn on their bonfires so we can keep an eye on the amount of gases released. (e.g. 6kg of wood per bonfire) We can also control the deforestation problem effectively by only cutting down trees that people want cut down so we are helping out other people as well as ourselves.

I also propose that we put a cap on how much rubber is burned on bonfires (7kg per bonfire). Another solution is to use artificial bonfires where an electric light is lit in place of materials that release harmful emissions ‘Designed and developed by Groundwork Northern Ireland our Beacons have a become popular local attraction in recent years and not just for the traditional July celebrations.’ Groundwork Northern Ireland.

Jamie O’Boyle Year 11