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Diwali, the festival of lights, enjoyment and happiness is celebrated every year with extreme joy and enthusiasm in India. We celebrate the festival by worshipping goddess Lakshmi and decorating our houses, by making sweets and snacks at our homes and by enlightening the fire crackers.
Diwali is celebrated because on that day Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya after completion of 14 years of vanvash (to remain in forest). Whole India is brightened with diyas and lamps to welcome Lord Rama. However, it is a festival of Happiness and enjoyment but still we need to celebrate what is known as “eco-friendly Diwali”.
Eco-friendly Diwali means celebrating the festival in such a way which serves two fold purpose:
The festival should remain as enjoyable as it is from years.
The damage and harm that we are causing to our environment should be minimized.
Various small anthropogenic activities are responsible for harming the environment along with the major industrial activities. For having a safe and healthy environment, we need to take care of each and every small contribution of ours. No doubt, festivals are a means of spreading happiness but we should take care of everything.
During Diwali, there are two dominant issues faced by the environment- air pollution and noise pollution. Already during winter, the Capital of India Delhi is suffering from the pollution problem. Delhi becomes a gas chamber during the months of winter. The firecrackers add up to the issue and make it more severe and problematic.
Burning the fire crackers releases harmful smoke which contains carbon monoxide, ozone, sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen. Also it releases certain particulate matters along with some heavy metals in the atmosphere. Each and every thing released has a certain impact on the environment and human health.
Carbon monoxide has 200 times more affinity than oxygen to bind with haemoglobin. It binds with haemoglobin and forms carboxyhemoglobin, COHb. Because of this, the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood decreases. Also because of such strong affinity even low concentration of CO is harmful.
Also CO being one of the greenhouse gases is responsible for rising the Earth’s temperature. This leads to the problem of climate change and global warming. Both phenomena are having serious consequences.
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Another pollutant that is released from the fire crackers is ozone. Although ozone is protecting us from the harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun, certain aspects need to be understood about the ozone. The ozone which is present in the stratosphere is preventing the radiation from entering the atmosphere but the ozone which is present in the troposphere is a matter of concern.
According to the EPA, the ozone we breathe contracts the muscle of the air tract thereby reducing the amount of air that can be taken. It causes shortness of breath, pain during breathing, chest pain, coughing, lung disease such as Asthma and many more.
It also affects several sensible plants and ecosystems. It exposes the plants to harmful things such as diseases, insects and it also reduces the plant growth as well as affects the process of photosynthesis. Ecosystems face the threats of loss of biodiversity, changes in the biogeochemical cycles.
To understand the harmful effects of air pollution on human health: click here
Sulphur dioxide is also released by the burning of firecrackers. Sulphur dioxide causes intense irritation to the eyes and respiratory tract. It also contracts the respiratory pathway. Prolonged exposure can cause problems like headache and swelling of the upper respiratory tract. Sulphur dioxide along with fog and mist becomes a deadly combination as it generates sulphuric acid and sulphate ions. Sulphuric acid on blending with the atmospheric moisture, precipitates in the form of “ACID RAIN”.
Besides humans, SO2 can also pose threats to the flora. Acid rain damages the plant growth and also imbalances the pH of the plant. It harms certain cells and tissues and also the leaves of the plants collapse. The bleaching of plant leaves takes place.
Also acid rain causes damage to the infrastructure made up of CaCO3 composition such as limestone and marble. Such rocks start reacting with the sulphur compound and start losing the vitreous properties.
Along with all these, there is another important culprit- oxides of nitrogen. Nitrogen oxide is one of the reactive gases. The most important contributor among oxides of nitrogen is the nitrogen dioxide. On inhaling it can irritate the respiratory pathway. Also long exposures can result in respiratory disease such as Asthma.
When nitrogen dioxide reacts with other oxides of nitrogen it can form particulate matter and ozone. Both of them being an air pollutant. Besides these, it is also responsible for the formation of HNO3. Nitric acid is a minor component of acid rain. Also NO2 is the main component of photochemical smog.
Another air pollutant which is released and is of most concern- PM. Particulate Matter which is a combination of solid particles with liquid droplets is a destructive air pollutant. There are two types of PM based on the diameter: PM10- having 10 micrometer diameter or small and PM2.5- having 2.5 micrometer diameter or small.
The finer the particle, more harmful it is. Finer particles on inhaling can go deep into the lungs and ultimately into the bloodstream. It can severely affect the heart and lungs. It can cause premature death, non fatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat etc.
Such particulate matters can be carried easily with winds and may settle into water resources making the water acidic. It may also destroy biodiversity. It can create imbalance in nutrient cycles within the soil.
Noise pollution is an another issue during Diwali. Below is a data from CPCB of noise pollution before and during Diwali in Delhi.
It can induce hearing loss and stress. Due to the stress, the individual gets disturbance in his work and also it affects his mental health. Concentration power of the person decreases. People may suffer high blood pressure and heart disease.
It also affects other wildlife. Animals use their voice for navigating, attracting mate, escape from enemies and also for finding food. However, because of noise pollution such activities of fauna gets disturbed which affects their lives. It can also affect the breeding cycle which may lead to extinction of certain species.
Another small but important issue is the land or soil pollution. The burned remains of the fire crackers gets accumulated within the soil. Such a material being non biodegradable remains within the soil for many years. It contains toxic chemicals which may contaminate the soil and affect the soil ecosystem. It may lead to soil ecotoxicology.
As the material is non biodegradable, it remains as it is for years. During the rainy season through the process of leaching the toxic chemicals from such fragments may carried within the surface water streams which ultimately is used for fulfilling water demand. Also by the process of infiltration and percolation such toxic water may enter the groundwater aquifers.
Also during the festivals the quantity of solid waste gets increased. This solid waste makes it path towards the landfill or ocean dumps. These increases the load on landfill sites. Also sometimes the garbage remains within the soil. If plastic bags are thrown or for that matter if any non biodegradable material is thrown within the soil, it causes harm to the soil ecosystem.
Also the raw materials required for fire crackers is mined from the soil. There are certain environmental impacts of mining. Landscape degradation for the excavation of raw material is one of the major impact.
The other major impact of mining is the Deforestation. It is an important factor because it affects several other things such as it is responsible for habitat loss of various animals leading to their loss. Also it affects the local hydrogeologic conditions.
Some suggestions we are providing to minimize our contribution towards mistreating the environment. These suggestions will help you celebrate eco-friendly diwali.
The first thing we should do is to say no to the firecrackers or at least we can use crackers which cause less emissions. Two most common concerns with the firecrackers are air pollution and noise pollution. The third concern associated with it is the soil pollution. The firecrackers on burning releases certain harmful pollutants as well as particulate matter. The effect of each of the pollutants is described above.
Along with air pollution firecrackers are also responsible for creating noise pollution. The burned remains of the crackers which may contain toxin falls on the ground and remain as it is spreading the contamination within the soil. Also for the production of firecrackers, the raw material which is required is extracted through mining thereby causing deforestation and landscape degradation.
The second suggestion is to use eco friendly materials for decorating the home. Instead of things from plastic and non biodegradable materials we can use flowers to decorate our homes. Instead of using plastic statues we can place statues made up of clay.
We can use eco-friendly diyas made up of clays that are without any colours or dyes. Such chemicals may cause harm to the environment. Also we should avoid plastic diyas, as they are non biodegradable. Thus we should use biodegradable material such as clay.
During Diwali we wish to give your house a new look and therefore we apply paints on the walls. But do you know paints are also causing harm to the environment as well as the people residing there. Paints emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which in turn are responsible for formation of ozone and peroxyacetyl nitrate. The VOCs are responsible for indoor air quality and also contribute to urban smog pollution. Therefore, we should try to use paints which involve low emissions to protect ourselves and also the environment.
The third suggestion is to give eco-friendly gifts to our loved ones. It is a custom during Diwali to give gifts to the family, relatives and friends. Usually we are using sweets wrapped with plastic covers as gifts. We all are quite aware about the harmful effects of plastic.
For giving gifts instead of plastic bags you can use paper bags. Also for wrapping the gift, we can use a decorated paper. The gift should also be eco-friendly like we can give certain plants or organic products.
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Another thing we can adopt is using natural substances for Rangoli. Rangoli is a form of art in which beautiful designs are made on the floor through different colours. The rangoli colours may contain harmful chemicals which may contaminate the soil and also through the process of leaching can go into the surface water resource or groundwater aquifers.
Instead of chemical colours, one can use different colourful flowers. Also for yellow colour we can use haldi (turmeric) and certain pulses such as moong dal. For orange colour we can use masoor dal. We can use kumkum or sindoor for red colour, cloves can be used for brown colour and rice grains can be used for white colour. In this way we can avoid the harmful chemical colours and at the same time we can decorate our home as per our want. The next day all these materials can be used to feed birds or can be used for composting.
According to Times of India, the day after Diwali the roads of New Delhi are littered with the fragments of burned fire crackers, sweet boxes and plastic wrappers. There is an increment in the amount of solid waste upto 25-30%. Thus, we can see that a lot of solid waste is added to the cities because of the festivals.
Thus, to avoid such a problem we should donate reusable things instead of just throwing it into the landfill sites. Also donating will bring a smile on the face of a poor person who is deprived of happiness during festivals. To avoid generating more waste we need to shop less.
So dear readers next time when you celebrate Diwali, lets make it more wonderful but less harmful. Happy and safe Diwali to all of you.