The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has led to acute shortages of toilet paper, masks, ventilators, housewares and more. The global imbalance between supply and demand has been unprecedented and, if heeded, offers lessons to mitigate these types of disruptions in the future.
Hopefully, as we near the end of the global pandemic and as people become increasingly able to get outside and return to “normal,” they will want to do things they have always done. One of those things is to celebrate.
July 4th is a national holiday in the United States. July 1st is a national holiday in Canada. Both festival days, as well as other similar days around the world, are marked by fireworks. But at this stage of the pandemic, wouldn’t you know, there are now concerns about a fireworks shortage.
What’s happening? And what is the fireworks supply chain?
The History of Fireworks
It is generally believed that firecrackers were made around 200 BC. BC originated in China. Around AD 800-900, the Chinese mixed saltpeter (potassium nitrate), sulfur and charcoal into an early gunpowder-like mixture. Marco Polo brought fireworks to Europe and the development of fireworks continued.
During this time, pyrotechnicians or alchemists continued to advance this technology, including adding elements to provide enhanced colors and shapes, various beautiful effects, and more elaborate displays. During all this time, they were increasingly used for more and more large and small celebrations.
Thanks to these pioneers, fireworks are now used in celebrations around the world. New Year’s Eve, Christmas, July 4th in the US, Bastille Day in France, July 1st in Canada, Diwali in India, Sumidagawa Festival in Japan, Guy Fawkes Night in the UK, Chinese New Year and many more occasions are all marked by amazing fireworks displays.
The fireworks supply chain
According to Wikipedia, the various elements used to make fireworks include: Aluminum, Barium, Cesium, Carbon, Chlorine, Copper, Iron, Lithium, Potassium, Magnesium, Sodium, Oxygen, Sulfur, Strontium, Titanium, and Zirconium. Mining is required to obtain these materials.
The American Chemical Society states that fireworks consist of an envelope of air, or tube, containing gunpowder and the various chemicals (or stars) that give fireworks their color. These stars vary in shape and contain an oxidizer, a fuel, a metal-based dye, and a binder. Explosive charge and fuse trigger the explosion of the fireworks.
Firecrackers are mostly made in China, providing 99% of your backyard fireworks and 70% of professional fireworks. As they are mostly made manually, the low manufacturing cost in China along with their know-how is the determining factor in this sourcing situation.
Given the source of supply, most fireworks imported into the United States are shipped across the ocean to California for onward distribution across the country. They are shipped to too many retailers to be bought by consumers like you and me.
The current status of fireworks supply and demand
We have enjoyed fireworks for centuries, and in some cases millennia. Despite this, in 2021 we are facing a shortage of fireworks due to a global pandemic. What’s happening?
A factory explosion in China, factory closures and limited capacity, constrained transportation, port closures and delays in loading and unloading, backorders and delays, container shortages and the blockade of the Suez Canal are all causing supply shortages. The shipping costs have increased drastically. The prices rise accordingly.
And while supply is limited, demand has increased significantly. With pandemic-related restrictions being lifted, it’s not surprising that on the occasions when fireworks are the order of the day, people want to get out, party and enjoy fireworks.
All of this leads to a fireworks shortage in 2021.
The pandemic impacted supply chains around the world. The importance of the supply chain became known to everyone in government, business and society. When you can’t get toilet paper and when your medical professionals can’t get the mandatory supplies they need to save us all, people are shaken awake.
That there is a shortage of fireworks a year and a half into the pandemic shouldn’t really come as a surprise. All the factors that have caused bottlenecks in other supply chains apply equally to fireworks and other goods. Put in context, a lack of fireworks is pretty frivolous given the life-and-death nature of the pandemic that most of us, but not all of us, have been going through.
Still, there are many aspects of our daily lives, like fireworks, that people would like to return to as we make our way through the pandemic. If we hope to prevent, or at least mitigate, inevitable future bottlenecks, we must be smart enough to learn the lessons of the pandemic and apply them now.
However, there is a very real danger that people will forget what we have just gone through and go back to their old ways. And these people shouldn’t be surprised that the next disaster will cause more shortages.
And then the fireworks really go off!