Chinese people usually light firecrackers and fireworks to celebrate the Lunar New Year, which starts this Saturday, in the hope of driving away evil.
But fireworks contribute to air pollution - currently a hot issue in China. In Beijing, which has been hit by frequent heavy smog in recent years, people appear to be showing less interest in celebrating with a bang. On the first day of sales on January 22, 2017, a vendor surnamed Liu near the fourth ring road in southeastern Beijing said he had only sold a small number of firecrackers an hour after he opened the store. Other vendors said fewer people were splashing out on fancy fireworks this year.
The vendor is calm, despite the lack of sales. "It didn't sell well on the first day during the past few years. People won't buy fireworks until the New Year's Eve. I didn't stock much anyway. I'll see how it goes."
Several days ago, Beijing authorities rolled out tough regulations on fireworks. The number of licensed retail outlets has been cut down to 511, almost one third less than last year. And sales are banned within the downtown area of the third ring road. On top of that, if orange and red alerts are issued for heavy air pollution during the holiday, fireworks delivery and sales will be suspended.
The new measures have won support among residents in the Chinese capital. A lady surnamed Chang said her family has decided not to buy any fireworks this year. But vendors are counting on good weather to make profits this holiday season.
According to Li Zuojun, deputy director of the Institute of Resources and Environmental Policy with the Development Research Center of the State Council, any activities that have a detrimental impact on the environment should be curbed. "We should set off as few fireworks as possible because air pollutants have surpassed the tipping point."
However, Liu Yanju, researcher with Beijing Center for Physics & Chemical Analysis, said this is far from enough to reduce air pollution. "Fireworks only lead to short-term pollution, which won't make a big impact if the air diffusive condition is good. What matters is the regulation on heavy-polluting diesel vehicles and coal-burning in rural areas in Beijing," she said.
Environmentally-friendly fireworks have been introduced to the market with higher prices compared with the traditional ones. However, these kinds of fireworks don't sell well due to their poorer color and effects. Experts suggest that education to raise public awareness about the environment is vital, and authorities should also consider preferential policies to encourage companies to research and manufacture fireworks that meet the demands of the people and the environment.