Sparklers, like other fireworks, are difficult to sustainably dispose of.

sparklerspic.jpg When I was a kid, the only fireworks we were allowed to handle were sparklers. I still have fond memories of running up and down the driveway with one in my hand, or spinning it in a tight circle as fast as possible to see the little bead of light form a seemingly solid line. Sparklers are still popular at 4th of July and New Year’s Eve parties. They have also become a year-round product, because they are so popular at weddings. As more and more people handle them on a regular basis, many are asking the question: Can sparklers be recycled, either before or after they have been used? Sadly, the answer is no. Sparklers are coated with a variety of unrecyclable substances. As a result, the metal or wood pieces left over when you are finished with your sparklers will need to go in the trash (after you soak them in a bucket of water for a while, of course). If this news is putting a damper on your wedding or holiday plans, keep reading! We have several tips on greening your sparkler use.

What are sparklers made of?

The website Compound Interest has a great piece on sparklers, including an interesting infographic showing what additives produce different colors. Its post explains that sparklers have four different components: the metal rod you hold in your hand (which is typically made of iron); an oxidizer, which produces the color; a fuel, which keeps the sparkler burning; and a binder, which holds all these components together. When you a light a sparkler, here is what happens, according to the site: “These oxidizer compounds decompose and … produce oxygen as one of the products of the decomposition. The production of gases during the decomposition reaction also forcibly ejects bits of the burning powdered metal from the sparkler…. This causes the sparkler’s effect.” Sparklers were first invented in Germany in the 1850s. They came to North America 50 years later and have been a favorite at celebrations of all types ever since. If you like buying American made products, there are still a few manufactures in the U.S. that make sparklers. They include Diamond Sparklers and Black Cat Fireworks.

Can you recycle sparklers?

Because sparklers’ metal rods are coated with all these oxidizers, fuels and binders, they are poor candidates for recycling. They cannot be recycled with the rest of the iron. For that reason, sparklers cannot be recycled. When you finish with them, you should drop them in a bucket of water for at least 15 minutes to ensure they are fully extinguished. After that you can put them in the trash.

Greening your sparklers – and other fireworks

If the unrecyclability of sparklers is not enough to dissuade you from buying them, there are still things you can do to make your purchase more eco-friendly. Why buy a brand new package of sparklers when you can get them from someone who might otherwise throw them away? A website called Recycle Wedding is an amazing resource for any green or DIY bride. People sell all sorts of things they bought for weddings and no longer need. Items include dresses, photo booth props, table decorations, candles and candle holders, signs – and unused sparklers. Buying secondhand sparklers might also save you some money (and who can argue with that?). Some people argue that sparklers with bamboo rods rather than metal ones are more eco-friendly because they do not contain the harmful chemicals found in other sparklers. The website Dude, Sustainable! refutes the notion that these sparklers are totally green, because they still give off some emissions. Plus, he points out, fireworks in general contain fewer toxic chemicals than they used to. Try bamboo sparklers or gold sparklers (which contain the lowest volume of chemicals) if you want to use sparklers at home. Of course, the best way to enjoy fireworks while not adding to climate change is to visit a community-wide show rather than setting off fireworks at home.

Craft your own fake sparklers

If your kids are too young to play with sparklers, or you want something that can be used more than once, you can buy or craft your own items that look like sparklers. A blog post on Crafting a Green World took a cute idea for sparklers made from fringed foil paper (definitely not recyclable) and made it more eco-friendly by using recycled magazines instead. She ended up with a design that will make a great centerpiece for a 4th of July table – and perhaps a fun today for kids later in the evening. This Pinterest page has lots of great ideas for crafting sparklers and other fireworks from pipe cleaners, muffin liners, cotton swabs, straws and more. It is probably not a good idea to use recycled materials for many of these projects (please, no used cotton swabs!). However, rather than buying them new, see what you have around your house, or procure them from a secondhand store that resells art supplies. This 4th of July, we gave our two-and-a-half year old daughters the pinwheels they received at a friend’s birthday party. My husband called them “baby sparklers.” The joy on their faces as they ran through the back yard, the shiny material glittering in the sunlight, brought me back to my carefree days lighting sparklers at my childhood home. And even though those pinwheels cannot be recycled, at least the kiddos can continue to enjoy them for many more holidays to come.