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Chinese lanterns

While Chinese 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.

What are Chinese lanterns?

Also known as a sky lantern, a Chinese 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.

Are Chinese lanterns banned in the UK?

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.

Can Chinese lanterns cause fires?

In addition to the serious problems sky lanterns pose to animals welfare, they are also a fire hazard not just to wildlife habitats but also farm buildings. Fire services have issued warnings to people over the fire risk following incidents such as the  Smethwick recycling plant fire.

Why does the RSPCA want sky lanterns to be banned?

  • Sky lanterns present a hazard to animal welfare for numerous reasons. Lanterns can come down in fields where they are ingested by the grazing animals.
  • The lanterns can also fall into fields where the frames are chopped into silage and hay during harvest. Small needle-like splinters then enter the animals’ feed where they can cause internal bleeding and great pain.
  • There is also the risk of animals becoming entangled in frames and then injuring themselves as they panic and attempt to get themselves free.

Can you still buy Chinese lanterns?

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 cause to wildlife and the environment.

What happens to Chinese lanterns when they burn out?

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.

Are biodegradable lanterns an environmentally-friendly alternative?

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.

What is being done?

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.

What do Chinese lanterns symbolise?
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.

Sign the petition
Call on your local council to implement a ban on the release of balloons and sky lanterns on council land.

Sign the petition.

What you can do to help?

  • Pick up lantern debris if you see it lying around
  • Discourage others from using Chinese lanterns
  • Contact event planners and retailers encouraging them to seek harmless alternatives.
  • Contact local councils about planned releases and discourage organisers from holding them
  • Write to your local MP (England) or AM (Wales)
  • Spread the word

About the author

Jodie Adam

Jodie is RSPCA Assured's Digital Communications Manager. 

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