Safe disposal of Bonfire night waste

November 3, 2023

Disposing of spent fireworks

Spent fireworks should ideally be soaked in water for 15 minutes before being disposed of in the general waste bin.

The cardboard tubes and heat resistant hard plastic fragments from spent fireworks are a common sight in gardens, parks and on pavements at this time of the year. These can’t be recycled and shouldn’t be placed in your kerbside recycling bin or your home compost bin.

In part this is due to the possibility of dangerous unspent fireworks accidentally finding their way into waste collection vehicles (bin lorries) and recycling facilities where they might explode, and partly because these materials are often heavily loaded with high concentrations of heavy metals such as barium, antimony, copper and titanium which give the fireworks their vibrant colours and sparkle, but which also contaminate otherwise recyclable materials when placed in recycling collections.

These metals also make an unwelcome addition to soils in significant concentrations as they can harm wildlife and plants, so it’s not a good idea to put the cardboard tubes in your home compost bin, or to leave them in your garden for any length of time. 

Disposing of unspent fireworks

If your fireworks have misfired, submerge them in water and leave them to soak for at least 48 hours before putting them in a plastic bag (to help prevent them drying out) and throwing them in the general waste bin.

If you have unused or out of date fireworks the best option is to return the fireworks to the retailer where you purchased them. Most reputable retailers will accept unused fireworks and dispose of them properly. This is often the safest and most convenient option, as the retailer will have the knowledge and experience to dispose of the fireworks safely and in compliance with local regulations.

If you have unused fireworks left-over from a professional display, you should contact the company that provided the display for advice on how to dispose of them. Professional displays are licenced to use larger and potentially more hazardous fireworks which may require special disposal methods, and it’s important to follow the correct procedures to ensure firework safety.

Avoiding firework waste altogether

Rather than buying your own, attending a well organised communal display might be a more environmentally friendly way of enjoying fireworks. Most large fireworks displays in public venues will have a pre-organised clean-up to remove the resultant waste, and of course centralising the event limits the spread of the resultant waste to just one area. If you do buy your own fireworks for use at home there’s nothing stopping you from having your own post-celebration clean up. Also, it’s worth knowing that fireworks with a white coloured flame typically contain fewer heavy metals than coloured varieties and are therefore less toxic to both soils and wildlife.


Safely disposing of ashes from bonfires

  • Let the remains of your fire cool down completely

It’s recommended that you leave 48hrs to allow the ashes / embers from a bonfire or fire pit to cool down completely before touching them. Even then, be cautious when disturbing the ashes as doing so can introduce oxygen and reignite smouldering coals which in turn may set fire to materials nearby. Carefully rake through the ashes to check for smouldering and to help release residual heat. If in any doubt, douse them with water and or sand before moving them.

  • Dispose of the waste

If you don’t have a use for your ashes in your garden (see this guide from the Royal Horticultural Society) these should be placed in the residual waste bin. Make sure they are completely cold before moving them. If you use something to transport the ashes to your bin – please make the effort to use something reusable, or if you are going to throw your ashes away in a container or bag please use a non-recyclable item.

If you are transporting your waste to a Recycling and Household Waste Site, please take extra care to ensure everything is extinguished and cool before placing the items in your vehicle. Once on site you’ll be asked to dispose of the waste in a bin or skip for residual / non-recyclable waste.

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