ECOLOGIC : Do Diwali right this year

24-Oct-2019: Pavitra Sriprakash, Director and Chief Designer at Shilpa Architects Planners Designers writes a weekly column on Sustainability for The New Indian Express titled “ECOLOGIC”. This week she writes about the polluting aspects of crackers and celebrating a green Diwali.

Full article below: (Also available at The New Indian Express Website)

Do Diwali right this year

Diwali is by far the country’s blockbuster festival. It is a time for fun, frolic and families coming together to celebrate the traditional festival of lights. Having a ‘Green Diwali’ may not be the first thing that pops into our heads, but we do have to stay focused on the environmental impact of this festival and do our bit to be sensitive amidst all the celebrations. Crackers are obviously a standout environmental issue and are especially under the scanner for all sorts of hazardous reasons — from workers’ safety, users’ safety, noise levels, air pollution and now the latest on them being imported from China. Around the country, state pollution control boards assess and evaluate the permissible noise pollution level of firecrackers.

We all have experienced the times a car alarm triggers when the really big ones go off. This is because it causes air to vibrate at such a high magnitude that it is sensed by the shock sensors in the car, thereby setting these alarms off. According to the environmental laws of India the ‘safe noise level’ is about 90 Db. Experts warn that continuous noise levels in excess of 90 decibels can cause loss of hearing and irreversible changes in the human nervous systems. The World Health Organization has fixed 45 decibels as the safe noise level for a city. Metropolitan areas in India usually register an average more than 90 decibels.

During Diwali, this number often exceeds 125 Db, completely disrupting the natural environment. Dogs hear about 4-7 times louder than a human ear, making it a particularly stressful time for them. Animal activists are worried about the effect of crackers on stray dogs and cats and struggle to find shelters to keep them safe during this time. Many house pets also go missing at this time of the year as they run away from their homes, frightened, and then get lost as they are unable to retrace their steps.

Please be watchful for frantic animals that are running amidst traffic — they are not in control of their senses, so be wary on the roads. The smoky early morning sunrise on Diwali is characteristic of another major polluting aspect of the crackers — air pollution. While some crackers are more polluting than others, we can be rest assured that burning any of these will emit harmful toxins into the air we breathe. Air pollution shoots up by 50% during this time in major Indian cities as levels of oxides and dioxides of sulphur and nitrogen skyrocket

Apart from this, suspended particulate matter and respirable suspended particulates also increase, making it difficult for people with breathing disorders like asthma. The polluting aspects of crackers are meant to be monitored before these can be stocked for sale, but often it is found that most of the crackers on the shelf fail these environmental safety measures.

There is also a lot of garbage created with all the paper and cardboard waste that comes from the packaging, which cannot be recycled or repurposed. It is left lying on the roads only to become part of our landfills. So this time around, be an informed consumer and check with the stores before purchase to make smart choices for your family. Or better still, have a joyful, bright and cracker-free celebration and feel great about the fact that you are saving our planet and its creatures by doing so. Happy Diwali!