Wedding dreams of eco Chinese sky lanterns up in smoke?

In part one of this article we investigated fireworks and their potentially  harmful effects on the environment.  This week we take a look at what is often used as a fiery, low cost alternative to pyrotechnics, Chinese lanterns.

We previously explored their environmental impact in our post Eco Chinese sky lanterns – myth or magical? and as part of this month’s entertainment topic we’d like to re-open this important debate.

Image courtesy of

Silent but deadly

These seemingly innocuous and beautiful floating flames have a rather nasty sting in their tail.  Thankfully, it’s now more widely known that Chinese lanterns are damaging to the environment and their use, at least in the UK, has decreased as a consequence.  There has been a lot of publicity in the news and from environmental groups about how they can cause fires, spread debris across the countryside, and hurt or even kill wild and farm animals, and yet still the government resists imposing a ban due to their positive impact on the UK economy.  The Women’s Food and Farming Union and the National Farmer’s Union (NFU) have both campaigned for a ban on their use.

The NFU says:

Cattle can eat the wire in the lantern which finds its way into the silage they are fed. The lanterns land in fields, are chopped up into small pieces when grass is gathered and made into silage. If swallowed, the wire can puncture the stomach lining, causing extreme pain and in some cases can be fatal’

Likewise the RSPCA are very clear on their stance on Chinese lanterns:

Chinese lanterns pose a threat to wildlife, livestock and other animals by causing injuries that lead to suffering and a slow painful death

The good news is that farming minister, David Heath recently announced the launch of an enquiry into the effects of these mini floating fires on the environment.

A Defra spokesperson has said the aim of the study was also to discover what other countries were doing to address concerns, and find out how much the market for lanterns is worth, and how much a ban might impact the economy.

Are eco lanterns really eco?

It seems the metal in the lanterns is a real cause for concern, but what about metal-free lanterns? As a result of the negative PR a number of Chinese lantern manufacturers have attempted to address this issue. In our previous article we were contacted by the following companies: Sky Lanterns online, Night Sky Lanterns and Eco lanterns, who stated their commitment to the manufacture of metal-free lanterns, and the use of flame resistant wool and 100% degradable materials. This is certainly an improvement, but many environmental groups still believe that any burning paper lantern released into the sky poses a threat to birds and marine life and wildlife, and is a potential fire hazard.

What goes up…

Indeed, a recent report by a coalition of environmental NGOs reveals the hazardous effects of all types of Chinese lanterns and helium balloons on birds, marine and wild life.

The Irish Wildlife Trust, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Irish Seal Sanctuary and BirdWatch Ireland have joined forces in an alarmed response to an increase in the use of balloons and lanterns in Ireland, and their detrimental effects on the environment as a direct consequence.  The Irish Wildlife Trust says:

Balloon latex can take up to twelve months to degrade in the marine environment and has been found in the stomachs of whales, dolphins, turtles, sharks and birds. Chinese lanterns have been responsible for death and injury to domesticated and wild animals alike, along with causing injuries to humans, presenting a fire risk, and wasting resources when mistaken for emergency flares at sea.

Debbi Pedreschi, spokesperson for the coalition says:

What goes up must come down; fragments, strings and wires contaminate the environment, and cause animals to become entangled or even to choke to death. We urge the public to stop releasing balloons and lanterns; there are far more environmentally friendly ways to celebrate, or commemorate, without risking the safety of our wildlife.

Download the report Ban Balloon Releases {opens pdf}

Outside the box

It doesn’t take long to come up with a number of safe alternatives that are just as beautiful visually and equally entertaining.  Here are a few ideas to get started:

Kites – ask your guests to bring a kite, or even better, make your own small, simple ones out of recycled paper and sticks and ask your guests to write a special message on them for you. Imagine a sky filled with a hundred dancing kites, which you can then take home as a keepsake.

3 kites against white cloud

Balloons on strings – helium balloons can be attached to long strings and fixed to your marquee and given to children when they leave (with the proviso that they keep hold of them!).

Use balloons indoors – releasing a net of colourful balloons in your wedding venue is always a visual spectacle.

Lanterns hung in trees – if your wedding is outside, why not think about hanging lanterns from trees or lighting pathways with solar powered lights or static lanterns?

Red Chinese lanterns hanging from trees

A communal planting – if everyone at your wedding planted a tree or rose instead of releasing a lantern what a wonderfully positive and long lasting contribution this would be. This could be done on the day or as part of a stag or hen event.

Tara Gould


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