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While sky lanterns may look nice as they drift up into the sky, it’s important to remember that they are essentially open flame balloons floating wherever the wind may take them.
Also known as a Chinese lantern, a sky lantern is a lightweight wire or bamboo frame surrounded by paper and an open flame which causes the lantern to float, basically a miniature hot air balloon.
For the moment, sky lanterns are not banned in England or Scotland. Their use has been banned on council land in Wales since February 2018 and the RSPCA is asking for England to implement the same ban. While their use has been banned in parts of England, the ban is not yet nationwide.
In addition to the serious problems sky lanterns pose to animal welfare, they are also a fire hazard not just to wildlife habitats but also to farm buildings. Fire services have issued warnings to people about the fire risk following incidents such as the Smethwick recycling plant fire.
An estimated 200,000 sky lanterns are sold and released each year in the UK. As their popularity has grown over recent years, so too has the devastating effect they have on wildlife and the environment.
As long as they stay in their upright position, sky lanterns will burn out and only fall to earth once they are extinguished. However, if they are tilted in the air due to wind currents or knocking into something, the paper around the frame can catch alight and pose a serious fire risk. A risk that has caused damage to property and also animal life.
Not really. Materials like bamboo are sometimes used instead of wire and the sky lanterns are marketed as biodegradable but it can take decades for these products to degrade and the fire risk is still present.
Sky lanterns originated in China where they are frequently used in celebrations. The lanterns have different symbolism depending on the colour, for example, red is a symbol of happiness, whereas gold is a symbol of wealth.
Farmers’ unions have called for a ban on sky lanterns due to the dangers they pose to livestock. The ban has been supported by horse keepers, animal sanctuaries and zoos which have spoken out after finding lantern debris on their premises, and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) who are concerned about the impact lantern litter can have on marine animals.
Fire and rescue services around the UK have all issued warnings against sky lanterns. Lantern releases have already been banned in some countries including Australia, Germany and Malta.