Tree Seedlings to Supplement Firework Sales Over Next 3 Years

Fireworks Exploding over Reykjavík

ICE-SAR will continue to sell tree seedlings at its fireworks outlets according to a new agreement with the Icelandic Forestry Association, RÚV reports. The contract expires in 2023.

Extravagant Pyrotechnics

As environmental issues have moved to the fore of the national consciousness, Iceland’s longstanding fireworks tradition has come under scrutiny lately. Most of the fireworks ignited in Iceland are imported from China, translating into a sizeable carbon footprint. Fireworks also produce smoke and dust, which besides causing lung damage, also contain various heavy metals and harmful chemicals. Residents of Iceland have ignited some 600 tonnes’ worth of fireworks annually since 2005. Many have called for moderation.

Such appeals are problematic, given that the sale of fireworks is the largest source of income for the Icelandic Association of Search and Rescue (ICE-SAR). According to some estimates, ICE-SAR enjoys a 75% share of the fireworks market in Iceland, which, in turn, accounts for about one-third of the association’s total funding (although it may account for up to 90% of the financing of individual rescue teams in rural Iceland). ICE-SAR handles approximately 1,200 emergency calls annually.

Money Growing on Trees

Last year, in response to growing environmental concerns, ICE-SAR began supplementing its sale of fireworks by offering tree seedlings – under the heading Skjótum rótum (Put Down Roots) – at its outlets. Buyers do not receive the seedlings. Instead, the Icelandic Forestry Association, in partnership with other forestry associations (there are ca. 60 forestry associations in Iceland), plant them on their behalf. ICE-SAR sold approximately 13,000 seedlings last year.

This year, ICE-SAR and the Icelandic Forestry Association hope to expand the number of forestry associations participating in the project, aiming to spread the programme to more parts of the country. The proceeds from the sale of seedlings will go directly to ICE-SAR. The seedlings will be sold around the country until New Year’s.

Pollution a Genuine Concern

According to a report introduced by the Environment Agency of Iceland this week, the Greater Reykjavík Area saw a significant increase in suspended particulate matter on New Year’s Eve last year. Measuring stations in the Greater Reykajvík Area recorded sixteen different types of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and seventeen chemical elements.

“The Environment Agency of Iceland encourages everyone to exercise moderation in their use of fireworks. We emphasise that pollution from fireworks is a genuine concern in Iceland, with suspended particulate matter accounting for the most adverse health effects. The Agency would also like to point out that the pollution harms those who experience it, especially those who are vulnerable, like children, the elderly, or the infirm. Suspended particulate matter not only causes discomfort but also reduces the quality of life for many.”

ICE-SAR Earns Over Half of Annual Revenue from Fireworks

Reykjavík Fireworks New Year's Eve

ICE-SAR earned around ISK 800 million ($6.8m/€6m), or up to 60% of its total annual revenue from New Year’s firework sales in 2017 and 2016, RÚV reports. ICE-SAR chairman Smári Sigurðsson says that this year’s fireworks sales figures are not yet available, and may indeed be somewhat lower than previous years, but it’s possible that sales from this year’s new seedlings initiative will make up for any drop-off in firework sales. Smári predicts that this year’s fundraiser will yield somewhere between ISK 700 and 800 million ($5.9-6.8m/€5.5-6m).

Figures for this year’s sales are not yet available as they will continue through January 6, or Þrettándinn, which marks the 13th and last day of Christmas in Iceland. Bonfires are held throughout the country and many people save their holiday fireworks for this day, which is the last legal day to set them off until the next Christmas season. The bonfires and fireworks are, metaphorically speaking, intended to “burn up Christmas” and mark the end of the festive season.

There’s been increasing concern over the pollution caused by the annual fireworks extravaganza in Iceland, and the resulting difficulties experienced, for instance, by people with respiratory problems. As such, the idea of selling seedlings to be planted in a grove outside Þorlákshöfn next summer had been “well-received,” said Smári, and ICE-SAR intends to continue the seedling sale next year and “…develop this partnership with the Icelandic Forest Service further.”

ICE-SAR is entirely funded by donations; it receives no government support. As such, the annual end-of-year fundraiser is particularly important to the organisation’s success for the rest of the year. However, that doesn’t mean that the organisation is dead-set on the continued sale of fireworks specifically.

“We’re not defending fireworks, per se, but we but we want to spend the profits on the work that needs to be done.”