So, you're at a festival...
Does the image above look familiar?
Nitrous oxide bulbs (or nangs) contain a colourless gas and are often used recreationally at festivals and events for a short high. They're cheap and readily available, requiring no ID to purchase, making them a popular drug in the Australian party scene.
Whilst there's no specific data relating to their use in Australia, overall inhalant use has been gradually increasing to around 1.7% in 2019. These canisters have a one-time use, meaning once the gas has been discharged, the empty bulb needs to be disposed of.
However, whilst nangs are mainly made from steel, recycling the empty canisters presents a whole new problem. In order for the steel to be recycled, the bulbs must first be crushed at a processing facility. However, if an unopened nang is present within the waste, there is a high risk that the pressurised gas may cause an explosion. Hence, despite the high recycling value of the metal, many sites deem this threat too high to continue to accept and process disposed steel bulbs.
As a result we end up with high amounts of carbon dioxide produced for a single-use raw material...but how much exactly?
One tonne of steel can produce anywhere between 1.25 - 3.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide, more than the weight of the product being created.
In terms of the steel itself, in order to safely hold the amount of highly pressurised gas, the bulbs tend to be made from 3mm thick galvanised steel, diverting those materials away from infrastructure or transport and directly producing emissions through the smelting process for a single-use item.
To put this into perspective, large Australian festivals have been recorded to produce between 500kg to 1 tonne of canister waste at the conclusion of the event. However, it's not only Australia, the 2021 Global Drug Survey recorded nitrous oxide as the 13th most popular recreational drug worldwide.
That's a whole lot of emissions for a two minute high...
In addition to the single-use waste created from the habit, ongoing ecosystem effects can be observed as a result of nang use.
Due to their small size, canisters can often be missed or buried during event cleanup, particularly when patrons often choose to dispose of them directly onto the ground. This results in the bulbs residing in the environments for a long time as their zinc coating gives a lifespan of between 50 - 76 years.
Finally, the balloons associated with the use of nangs are a secondary waste object that users often carelessly dispose of. Balloons have been identified as one of the most harmful pollutants threatening marine wildlife, on par with plastic bags and bottles. When incorrectly disposed of, these plastics can end up in parklands, waterways and oceans, capable of significant environmental threat to our wildlife.
The decomposition process of balloons results in a breakdown of multi-coloured plastics, often confused as a food source by wildlife, leading to ingestion. Consistently, balloons are among the most notable plastics found in the stomachs of dead animals. When we consider the rural locations festivals and events are often held, the risks of ingestion by wildlife increases.
It's estimated that Australia is currently burying around 10 tonnes of used nang canisters annually and these are just the ones that are found and make their way to disposal sites.
Either way you look at it, nangs hurt the planet.
In partnership with Meadow Music Festival in 2023, B-alternative worked to raise awareness regarding the environmental and ecosystem threats associated with nang use. Messaging against continued usage proved successful and we are proud to report that a total of only 3 empty canisters were collected at the conclusion of the festival. This continues to be an example of the importance of environmental education at events, particularly engaging patrons to learn about ongoing impacts of waste habits. For more information, please contact email@example.com Sources:
Balloons are pollutants that threaten wildlife | Sustainability Victoria. (2023, March 15). Sustainability Victoria. https://www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/recycling-and-reducing-waste/at-home/avoid-waste/minimise-single-use-items/balloons
Nichols, S. (2017, October 24). Your Nang Habit Is Trashing the Earth. Vice. https://www.vice.com/en/article/xwaxyz/your-nang-habit-is-trashing-the-earth
Nitrous oxide – uses, impacts and risks - Alcohol and Drug Foundation. (2023, January).
Nitrous oxide – uses, impacts and risks. (2023, January). Alcohol and Drug Foundation. https://adf.org.au/insights/nitrous-oxide/#:~:text=During%20summer%20party%20season%2C%20some,'nangs'%20when%20used%20recreationally.