Holiday fireworks lose their sparkle amid smog

Updated: 2014-01-27 00:45

By Zheng Xin (China Daily)

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Holiday fireworks lose their sparkle amid smog

A salesman waits for customers at a fireworks retail outlet in Beijing’s Chaoyang district on Saturday. WANG JING / CHINA DAILY

Public enthusiasm for fireworks seems to be fizzling out in the face of concerns over air pollution, with many people posting online messages calling for restraint in celebrations during Spring Festival.

Posts are circulating on Chinese social media platforms, including Sina Weibo and WeChat, calling for people to scale back on the use of fireworks during the holiday, which runs from Jan 31 to Feb 6. Many have greeted the posts favorably.

"Fighting against sooty air is the responsibility of every resident," said Peng Xiao, a 32-year-old resident in Beijing's Chaoyang district. "You can't blame the government for the air quality while making things worse yourself."

Nor is it just air pollution, she said. Noise pollution is also a factor, as fireworks also set off car alarms.

However, others have pointed out that fireworks are an essential part of celebrating big events, like weddings and holidays.

"Shutting down one polluting company might contribute more to clear skies than asking the public to let off fewer fireworks," said Fan Di, a 25-year-old real estate saleswoman.

Setting off fireworks is an integral part of Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations, with the noise traditionally believed to ward off evil spirits and bad luck. However, with China suffering from heavy smog in recent years, the contribution of fireworks to air pollution has drawn widespread attention from the public and authorities.

A recent online survey on Sina Weibo showed that more than 60 percent of participants would be happy not to use fireworks during the holiday, while the remaining 40 percent were adamant that they will stick to the traditional methods of celebration.

Alternative ways to celebrate are being suggested.

The Beijing Consumer Association on Thursday urged residents to replace fireworks with flowers and electronic substitutes.

A statement issued by the association advised consumers to refrain from celebrations with fireworks and firecrackers or only use environmentally friendly products to avoid "rubbing salt into the wound" of the city's already severe air pollution.

The city governments of Hefei, Qingdao, Shenzhen and many other cities have tried to persuade residents to give up fireworks during the holiday.

According to Beijing's administration office for fireworks and firecrackers, the city has 515,000 boxes of fireworks in stock for this year's festival, down from 710,000 boxes in 2013 and 810,000 in 2012. The number of retail outlets for firecrackers across the city has also been reduced by 13 percent.

Fireworks went on sale on Saturday (until Feb 14) but early indicators suggest that sales have been slow to take off.

"The public is not as enthusiastic as in the past because they are more aware of the importance of environmental protection and health," said Song Yang, an official with the fireworks administration office.

A female seller in Chaoyang district surnamed Wang said that she was not sure she could sell all her merchandise.

"People used to purchase huge boxes of firecrackers, but now more of our customers just purchase one or two, mostly spending no more than 100 yuan ($16)," she said.

Fireworks are forbidden after Feb 14 this year within the fifth ring road, and violators will face a hefty fine, the city's fireworks office said.

The office and the local public security bureau will also collect fireworks-related litter after the holiday to reduce hazards to the public.

Companies producing fireworks in the city have little reason to celebrate.

"We have reduced our inventories by 40 percent this year, and still we are not confident about the market," said Wu Liyu, head of the Beijing Fireworks Co, a State-run company. "The market has shrunk significantly over the past few years.''

Pan Di, head of Panda Fireworks, one of the three major fireworks manufactures in the capital, said the company has some 250,000 boxes of fireworks in stock this year, a 20 percent reduction on last year.

The fireworks have even undergone modifications to make them more environmentally friendly.

"All the fireworks this year will have fewer paper scraps and emit less smoke, and 25 percent of them are free of sulfur and contain less heavy metal materials," she said.

Another pollution-busting trend appears to be a preference for public firework displays rather than the use of fireworks by individuals and small groups.

"In the future, people might give up setting off fireworks themselves and resort to collective fireworks displays," said Pan.

Feng Yongfeng, founder of the Green Beagles, a Beijing-based environmental protection NGO, said that despite the reduction of harmful materials, fireworks are still a polluting factor and a public nuisance.

"Fireworks, especially large ones, contain too much gunpowder and are too loud," he said.

According to the city's fireworks office, a ban on fireworks will be put into effect if the city issues "red" or "orange" air pollution alerts during the festival, signifying severe levels of air pollution.

The government will inform the public of the alerts through text messages and television and radio alerts.