Eco Chinese sky lanterns – myth or magical?

The first time Chinese sky lanterns floated onto my radar was not in a good way. 

A journalist left a message (which I missed because I was on holiday) saying something along the lines of: “What is Ethical Weddings’ view on Chinese lanterns? What do you think about the environmental impact?

At the time I thought: what are Chinese lanterns anyway?

Since then my eyes have been opened to the stunning spectacle of these flying flames but also sadly to the damage they can do when they come back to earth.

Earlier this year, Jim Paice, Minister of State for Agriculture and Food asked the British Hospitality Association to talk to its member venues about the problems caused by Chinese lanterns and try to put off customers from using them.

He said: “Anyone who’s seen sky lanterns at night knows how spectacular they are but they probably don’t know how they can cut a cow’s insides to ribbons and be devastating to the countryside.

One of our ethical brides, Helen said “We thought we had chosen well buying ‘eco’ Chinese lanterns and then subsequently discovered that they were still hazardous to farm animals.

The original eco lanterns were so-called because they were 100% biodegradable but did not take into account the damage caused to animals who got caught up in or even ate the wire frame.

Can Chinese lanterns really be eco?

We asked our followers on Twitter what was wrong with Chinese lanterns and whether any could be truly eco.

Rocombe Retreat in Devon said:

They are dangerous to cattle and sheep. If they come down on your land the wire can cause injury to noses and hooves.

You would need a Chinese lantern without ANY metal parts in it. The metal frame causes the damage.

Night Sky Lanterns in North Yorkshire replied:

Our lanterns are 100% wire free. No metal is in our lanterns and we use natural materials as much as possible!

A search for ‘eco Chinese lanterns’ on Google reveals that companies have been quick to address the wire issue with ‘metal-free’ and ‘wire-free’ options featuring prominently.

EcoLanterns say:

All of the Sky Lanterns available on the ‘Eco Lanterns’ website are completely metal free as instead of using thin wire to suspend the fuel cell, a flame resistant wool is used.

“This makes our Eco Sky Lanterns safe for the environment as they will completely biodegrade.

While Sky Lanterns Online say:

There has been extensive coverage in the national press about the issue of the metal wire that resides in all popular sky lantern designs and the waste problem presented by Sky Lanterns.

“In conjunction with our manufacturing partners, we have developed a new ground breaking Chinese Sky Lantern that uses no metal parts. This new lantern has been patented by ourselves and we believe, is the future of Sky Lantern design. It is 100% degradable.

Instead of wire they use Dragon wool which they say is ‘flame retardant wool. Perfectly harmless to animals if ingested’.

So is the problem solved? Can you now free your conscience as you release your Chinese lantern?

Well, for one, we would urge those companies selling the new eco lanterns to stop selling the standard wire versions.

There is also the waste which, while biodegradable, will still be around for some time.

But ultimately Chinese lanterns are a cheaper, quieter and (in their eco version) lower impact alternative to that other popular night celebration of weddings: fireworks.

Are you having Chinese lanterns at your wedding? Or did you deliberately decide against them on environmental grounds? We welcome your comments!

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