By Lauren Meaney
The most important part of New Year’s celebrations are the fireworks, and living in Sydney, we are home to what are arguably the best, most spectacular in the world - but what is the true cost to both the planet, and the taxpayer, for this million-dollar event?
The 2022/23 Sydney Fireworks in numbers:
425 million viewers across the globe
8 tonnes of fireworks
$5.8 million spent
15 months planning
18 shipping containers of pyrotechnics
7,000 fireworks launched from the bridge and 2,000 from the Opera House
Although beautiful, it is easy to see the excessive use of materials during the 8-minute display, costing the planet, and the NSW taxpayer. The cost of the firework display is given a budget of more than $900,000, that’s $45,000 per minute for both 9 pm and 12 pm shows. What’s more, that price is only for the physical fireworks, not including the entertainment, broadcasting, and other expenses on the night, and in total, the NSW Government (and by extension, the taxpayer) pays $5.8 million. Despite this, Destination NSW reports that tourism covers these incredible costs, with a direct economic impact of $133 million.
A report from Curtin University published in the Academic Journal ‘Pacific Conservation Biology’ outlined the effects that the major fireworks show can have on animals in the area. Associate Professor Bill Batmen stated, “The annual timing of some large-scale firework events coincides with the migratory or reproductive movements of wildlife, and may therefore have adverse long-term population effects on them.” This damage continues to human health, as the fireworks produce “significant pulses of highly pollutant materials that also contribute significantly to the chemical pollution of soil, water, and air.”
After the 2019 Black Summer bushfires, when smoke already covered Sydney, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that over 250,000 people signed a petition to change the fireworks show, as “emissions from pyrotechnic shows [fireworks] were no longer acceptable in a warming world”. Additionally, because of Covid-19 and various restrictions in place since, others have called for the Government to switch to lasers or drone and light shows, as they can be spread across the city for many to see, rather than just in the harbour.
The Sydney City Council, who coordinate the NYE show, released a report indicating that the emissions that the fireworks show produces are offset, meaning that the council will reduce emissions in another area or project to compensate for the fireworks. Although it may seem as though drones and light shows produce less emissions, as we cannot physically see it (like the smoke from the fireworks), the indirect emissions are unknown. The emissions produced to manufacture the drones are undetermined, and in all likelihood produce the same, if not more, emissions as the fireworks.
Although on the surface the gains of switching from fireworks to a drone light show may seem overwhelming, there are some drawbacks. The Sydney City Council believe that a show of the scale of the Sydney NYE fireworks would require 6,500 drones, which would cost the taxpayer more than the fireworks themselves. The show would be shorter, due to the battery power of the drones, and because of the fragile technology, it is more likely that the show would be cancelled due to the inability to fly in the rain or strong winds. Moreover, for a laser or light show to be effective and impressive, there has to be a certain amount of cloud cover or pollution, which Sydney’s skies do not have in the summer.
However, some states in the US have begun to stop displaying fireworks for major events such as the Fourth of July and instead invested in drones as the fireworks were causing bushfires. Additionally, the loud sound that accompanies fireworks which is often overwhelming for animals, veterans and children is reduced and replaced with music for onlookers.
So are the fireworks here to stay? In short, yes. For the moment, they are the best and most sustainable option available to Sydney. The containers the fireworks are in are made out of biodegradable paper which reduces the overall impact on the environment, allowing most of the materials to be decomposed. This said, I am sure that as technology develops in the future we will begin to see new and improved fireworks shows all over the world.