As people prepare to welcome and celebrate the festival of lights with unbridled abandon and plenty of loud bangs, we hate to be the proverbial ‘wet blanket’ that dampens the festive enthusiasm. But, have you ever thought about the amount of damage the fire-crackers unleashed on the occasion are doing to the air quality, or the huge waste generated during celebrations is doing to the environment.

Fireworks and firecrackers have for long been a hallmark associated with Diwali celebrations. However, it is now also linked to an increase in noise and air pollution. The bursting of firecrackers on festive occasions have been shown to exacerbate the already poor air quality and high particulate matter (PM2.5) content in the many Indian cities and towns.

According to environment specialists , particulate matter refers to a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Some of these particles of less than 10 micrometers in diameter (PM10), such as dust, soot, or smoke, are large enough to be seen with the naked eye. Others are so small, often less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) that they can only be detected using an electron microscope.

How small is 2.5 micrometers? Think about a single hair from your head. The average human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter, which makes it nearly 30 times larger than the largest fine particle. Particulate matter (PM2.5) poses the greatest risk to human health, as it can be inhaled deep into the lungs and even get into your bloodstream.

Numerous studies have linked particulate matter (PM2.5) exposure to a variety of problems, including premature death in people with heart or lung disease, heart attacks, aggravated asthma, increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing. In particular, people with heart or lung diseases, children, and older adults are more likely to be affected by exposure to particulate matter pollution.

The good news, if it could be called good news, is that the decrease in air quality due to an increase in particulate matter from bursting of firecrackers was found to dissipate a few hours after the end of celebratory fireworks. But the long-term damage to the environment from the release of chemicals contained in the firecrackers into the atmosphere is yet to be determined.

At a time when the world is engaged in combating the existential threat of climate change, we all have a responsibility to play a role and contribute to helping reduce our individual carbon footprint on the planet. This includes celebrating a greener, more eco-friendly Diwali devoid of ‘sound and fury’. But, if you still insist on marking the festival with ‘sound and fury’, especially under compulsion of the kids, opt for eco-friendly versions of firecrackers.

Ecologically less harmful ‘green’ crackers — conceptualized by the Indian National Environmental Engineering Research Institute — are gaining traction in many celebratory events. Manufactured without harmful chemicals, especially barium nitrate that causes heavy smoke and unsafe emissions, these green crackers are a safer option. The sound produced from these crackers are also less than the 150 to 175 decibels associated with traditional crackers.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a safe sound limit of not more than140 decibels for adults, and120 decibels for children. Since the impact of sound varies in line with the distance from its source, if a fireworks explodes at 170 decibels, you need to be 15 to 20 meters away to be within safe sound limits. Children would have to stand 50 to 60 meters away, as their ear canals are narrower and sound impact is louder. Infants should not be exposed to fireworks.

Some other eco-friendly options that you could introduce in your home this Diwali and help reduce your carbon footprint on the planet include lighting up the home and yard with small earthen lamps called diyas, in place of the electric bulbs that are now in vogue. Though earthen lamps need oil for illumination, the pollution is negligible and electricity consumption is nil.

Substituting scented candles and electric diyas with the good old earthen oil-diyas that are made from clay and other ‘green’ materials also helps in conservation as they can be used many times over and are compostable. Remember, the candle diyas now popular can be used only once and are petroleum based. They also release toxins while burning which affects air quality.

Decorate the entrance floor with colorful patterns (rangolis) using natural dyes in place of chemical colors. Instead of the artificial rangoli color powders that are readily available in the market, make a rangoli out of fresh flowers or make the floor designs with traditional and natural ingredients, such as rice paste or dry rice flour. Also, use energy conserving LED and CFL lamps instead of incandescent bulbs inside homes.

Employ your creativity to design handcrafted decorative door hangings (torans) including using bright and colorful dupattas and sarees, rather than the plasticky choices available now, are definitely better options to celebrating this festival of light in an eco-friendly manner.

Here are a few more ways to go green this Diwali without dimming the brilliance and glitter of the festival in any significant way.

Green alternatives to crackers: Use colored balloons in festive colors of red, yellow, green and orange, and fill them with glitter and small bits of colored paper. Burst the balloons and dance in the glitter rain with your family and friends. It may not have the bang of traditional fireworks but it also leaves no environmental damage.

Reduce use of plastic bags: When exchanging gifts make sure not to pack them in plastic backed gift wrappings or carry them in plastic gift bags, instead use your creativity to come up with natural wrapping and present the gifts in cloth bags.

Make sweets at home: Spend a little extra time in the kitchen before the festivities start and make the sweets and other delicacies at home. Share them with your neighbors and friends in steel and glass plates, or compostable paper plates. It may be more convenient to just buy them from the sweet shop next door, but think about the wasteful packaging that comes with it and the artificial colors and dressings used on them.

’Making the upcoming Diwali celebrations a ‘green’ one, will be your small contribution to protecting the environment, to sustainability, and to ensuring a safer, livable planet for generations to come.

Read Today's News TODAY... on our Telegram Channel click here to join and receive all the latest updates