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Stop Using Chinese Lanterns

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Stop Using Chinese Lanterns

With Halloween & Bonfire Night Around The Corner, Chinese (SKY) Lanterns Are Making Their Annual Appearance But Do You Know The Dangers They Cause To Animals & The Environment?

Over 200,000 sky lanterns (also known as Chinese lanterns) made of paper and wire are sold in the UK each year. However, most people have no idea of the harmful and often deadly consequences the release of sky lanterns can have on animals and the environment.

In Asia and elsewhere around the world, sky lanterns have been traditionally made for centuries as part of long-established festivities, but in ancient China, sky lanterns were strategically used in wars. The name “sky lantern” is a translation of the Chinese name.

In typical designs, as long as the lantern stays upright the paper will not get hot enough to ignite, but if the lantern is tilted (by the wind or by hitting some object), it may catch fire while still in the air. All the paper will usually burn in a few seconds, but the flame source may remain lit until it hits the ground.

After the lantern lands, the leftover thin wire frame will rust away very slowly, remaining a hazard to animals that may swallow it. Some companies have consequently developed lanterns with bio-degradable fireproof rope or even bamboo in place of metal wire. But there are those who say even biodegradable lanterns are still not safe. Bamboo, for example, can take decades to degrade and there is still a risk from fire or animal ingestion.

“We would ask people to think carefully before using Chinese / Sky lanterns – remember once lit and released there is no control over its direction or where it lands, and this could have very serious consequences” Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service.

In 2013 the ‘largest fire ever’ in the West Midlands, involving 100,000 tonnes of recycling material and causing an estimated six million pounds worth of damage, was started by a sky lantern (captured on CCTV) which landed at a plastics recycling plant.

They have already been banned in some countries and fire services have issued warnings to people over the fire risk following incidents such as this.

“Sky lanterns and balloons can have a detrimental effect on wildlife that ingests the remains or get tangled up in the debris, causing a slow, painful death through starvation. Animals may abandon their young if they become unsettled by the loud noises (of fireworks) or smoke close to where they’re sheltering, and if live fireworks come into contact with birds and other wildlife they can cause severe burns and injuries resulting in death.”The RSPB
“Cattle have died after bits of Chinese lanterns have fallen into their feed, baby birds abandoned after their parents are spooked by a fireworks explosion and scraps of balloons landing in a field could be eaten by any animal…………….. with fatal consequences”The RSPCA

Birds and wildlife have been known to become entangled in the wire or bamboo remains of lanterns leading to injury or stress struggling to get free, or starve to death. Through curiosity, or because lantern litter is hidden in the vegetation they are grazing on, they can accidentally eat fallen balloons or lantern parts which can cause internal bleeding, leading to a slow painful death. When ingested the sharp parts can tear and puncture an animal’s throat or stomach causing internal bleeding.

This could easily be your precious pet dog or cat.

“Balloons [and sky lanterns] are not classed as litter under the Environment Protection Act as they are let go rather than dropped. Although some balloons are biodegradable, they may persist in the marine environment for up to four years.”Marine Conservation Society

Marine life is endangered by lanterns or balloons falling into the sea and being swallowed by such as whales, dolphins, or sea turtles.

“We know they can be spectacular, but lanterns can harm and even kill farm animals. They can also cause fires to crops, grassland on moors and bales of hay and straw”The National Farmers Union

The National Farmers Union continue to lobby the UK government for an outright ban on Sky Lanterns in the UK.

When lanterns fall into fields the frames can become chopped into silage and hay during harvest causing needle-like splinters to enter animal feed.

Sky lanterns can also cause fires which can set animal housing, feed and bedding alight. This can lead to displacement, injury & death of the animals there. Stables, animal sanctuaries and zoos have spoken out after finding lantern debris on their premises.

It is illegal (or necessary to obtain advance permission from local authorities) to launch a sky lantern in most parts of Germany, In Austria, it is illegal to produce, sell, import, or distribute them. In Washington State, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Colombia, Spain, Malta, and Vietnam, it is illegal to launch lanterns.

The sale of (but not possession or use of) sky lanterns that “rely on an open flame to heat the air inside the lantern” is banned in Australia.

Sky lanterns have also been alleged to pose a danger to aircraft. The city of Sanya in China banned sky lanterns due to their hazards toward aircraft and airspace navigation.

Some UK local authorities have entirely prohibited them in recent years, but Lancaster and Stockport are the only councils near to us to ban sky lanterns (so far).

Alternative suggestions include the use of stationary candles, night-lights, static lanterns or outdoor lights to create a fun and cosy atmosphere; write a word or name onto a candle and let it burn down to make a symbolic wish or memorial; plant a tree or donate to a good cause to honour the memory of a loved one.

The message is clear. DO NOT buy or release these lanterns (or helium balloons either) into the atmosphere.

And while that time is nearly upon us, please go only to organised firework displays.

If you must have a home bonfire, check before lighting that there are no creatures seeking refuge inside (hedgehogs are found on piles of wood) and keep it well away from trees.

Before you set off those fireworks, consider the wildlife having a kip nearby, or the neighbours’ terrified pet dog or cat (and make sure YOUR pet is home, safe, and insulated from the bangs – the only practical use of Radio One I can think of).

Lastly, please, carefully and considerately dispose of any litter.

And remember to take nothing but photographs and memories, and leave nothing but footprints.

I hope you have found this article useful and informative, I hope that it has inspired you to ditch the sky lanterns for a safer, more enviromentally friendly alternative, suggested above.

Malcolm Robinson

Originally a Mancunian, living in Whitworth for the last 30 years and thankfully retired. Amateur musician with a passion for traditional music and now an amateur journalist it seems...


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