Chinese sky lanterns and balloons may look pretty but they are in fact dangerous and can cause damage to property, wildlife and livestock. So if you're planning to release sky lanterns or balloons, please read this first.
What are sky lanterns?
Chinese lanterns (also known as sky lanterns or flying lanterns) consist of a wire or bamboo frame covered in frame and an open flame heat source. Lanterns can float for miles in the sky until the flame is extinguished when it then falls to the ground.
Is there a sky lantern ban?
Some countries and some UK councils have taken the sensible decision to ban sky lantern and balloon releases. There is also concern as lanterns can be sucked into plane engines.
Why are sky lanterns a danger to animals?
Lanterns are dangerous to animals as they can cause suffering, injury and even death, through:
Animals have eaten lantern parts which during harvest were accidentally chopped into animal feed. According to the RSPCA:
“sharp parts… can tear and puncture an animal’s throat or stomach causing internal bleeding or death.”
— Sea No Plastic (@Oceanwarrior) September 17, 2015
Entanglement or entrapment
Farm animals have been caught in wire frames that have landed in fields and if it's happening to livestock it's bound to be happening to wildlife but we just don't get to see it. Animals struggling to get free from a wire frame can suffer injuries and stress or, even worse, starve to death.
We know even less about what effect sky lanterns have on our marine wildlife but it is well-known that whales, dolphins and turtles are known to mistake balloons and plastic bags as food so they could also be mistaking lanterns that fall into the sea as food.
Sky lanterns can cause fires, which destroy habitats and set animal housing, feed and bedding alight. They are already been banned in some countries and fire services have issued warnings to people over the fire risk following incidents such as the Smethwick recycling plant fire in 2013 in which 10 firefighters were injured.
Are eco-friendly lanterns safe to use?
Unfortunately, ‘biodegradable’ lanterns aren't safe to use as bamboo can take decades to degrade and these lanterns could still cause a fire.
Alternatives to Chinese lanterns
If you are considering using sky lanterns, why not try these alternatives:
- Stationary candles or nightlights can look beautiful and you'll be able to enjoy them for more than a minute
- Re-usable static lanterns or outdoor lights
- Blow bubbles which can also look stunning
- If you want to commemorate a loved one or a family pet who has passed away, why not choose a lasting tribute such as planting a tree (perhaps with an engraved plaque) or wildflower garden, or a bench. This will also give you a special place to go and remember them
How can you help?
- Try to discourage others from using lanterns and suggest alternatives. Some people may not be aware of the damage caused by sky lanterns so share this post on social media to help spread the message.
- Pick up any lantern rubbish that you find and dispose of it safely.
- If you know about a planned release, please contact the event planners asking them to use alternatives.
- Also contact local councils asking them to ban planned releases.
- Write to your local MP (England).
- Balloons Blow – great website campaigning against balloon and sky lantern releases with downloadable fact sheets to help spread the word
- Marine Conservation Society (MCS)
- RSPCA – warning contains distressing photo of barn owl killed by a sky lantern
Join the discussion
Please post below if you have any eco-friendly alternatives to balloon releases or sky lanterns.
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