Translated and compiled by Yuan-ling Liang

On February 22, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je, New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu and Keelung Mayor Lin Yu-chang, gathered in Ping Xi, New Taipei City, where it is famous for the sky-lantern launching tradition.

This year, the three mayors launched a Travel-Around-The-World sky lantern, measuring 16 foot. However, environmental groups have attacked this act and are concerned too many sky lanterns may pose a threat to the forests.

A festival celebrated for over a century

Every January 15 of the Lunar Calendar, people enjoy launching sky lanterns with their dreams written on them in Ping Xi. This has been a tradition for more than a hundred years. Chosen as the world’s second largest festival at night by the Discovery Channel, the celebration annually attracts over 100 thousand people to the Sky Lantern Festival, with numerous foreign tourists joining the event.

The Tourism and Travel Department of the New Taipei City Government points out that the Sky Lantern Festival is one of the most popular activities at the end of Chinese New Year, along with the Lantern Festival in several cities in Taiwan.

In general Lantern Festivals, people stroll through displays of designed lanterns, while in Ping Xi, people write down their wishes on sky lanterns and launch them into the sky to pray for a lucky year.

Photo Credit:  Jirka Matousek @ Flickr CC BY 2.0

Photo Credit: Jirka Matousek @ Flickr CC BY 2.0

Arguments about the sky lantern tradition

To promote tourism in New Taipei City, the government has been putting much effort in popularizing the Sky Lantern Festival. But ecology activists find sky lanterns disturbing due to it being non-recyclable and the danger of flaming up the forests. Litter was also found widely spread in the past years after the festival. Some sparks had not even been extinguished in the lanterns when found.

A farmer told the Guardian, “If it gets wrapped up in hay bales it would be like swallowing razor blades for farm animals and if it falls into grassland it will kill wildlife.”

On February 22, environmental groups submitted a press release, stating that they call for regulations restricting the festival in Ping Xi. They urge the combination of cultural traditions and natural protection. “The government should also strike a balance between activities and the impacts they bring to nature,” they wrote.

Traditional lanterns are environmental friendly

Traditional lanterns are made of bamboo and cotton paper, which can decompose individually after dropping to the ground. The material used to burn the lantern is joss paper (paper money), letting the flame to spread through the whole lantern so it can be fully burnt.

But since the making of traditional lanterns require specific techniques, and are hard to be produced in bulk, lantern makers have replaced the bamboo with magnetic wire. Also, to make lanterns launch-able in rainy days, cotton paper and joss paper are substituted with chemical coating materials. Additionally, the size of lanterns is made much bigger than before, which makes them hard to burn completely.

Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像

Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像

According to the Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association, the government should, at least, limit the total amount of sky lanterns burnt each year. Concerns can be alleviated if the official operates the event with more prudence.

Taipei Mayor Ko tells the press, “I believe that the New Taipei City government has handled the environmental issue well. Most of the lanterns are recycled, so there is not much of a problem.”

Festivals abroad also encountering environmental issues

The conflict between traditional culture and environmental issues does not only exist in Taiwan.

In Thailand, people celebrate the Loy Krathong Festival on the full moon of the 12th lunar month. They put flowers, candles and joss sticks into a small vessel and float it down the river to pay homage to the gods.

The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry has suggested people in Thailand to use vegetables and plants like bitter gourd, papaya, pumpkin, banana blossom, roselle or the vegetable hummingbird tree as alternative materials for the vessels. Some people even use bread in order to protect the environment.

This happens in India as well. They celebrate the Diwali every October and November. During the holiday, people light up candles and incense to pray for luck and fight the evil. Firecrackers are also lit to create a lively atmosphere.

But reports show noise and air pollution are both increased during the celebration, and air pollution is even 40 times more serious than the WHO-set standard. To solve the problem, the Indian government cooperates with firework providers to reduce the sound they make. Limitations are also established to control excessive emission.

Edited by Olivia Yang

Storm Media
NTPC Travel
Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association
“What’s the environmental impact of a sky lantern?" (The Guardian)
“Sky lanterns: beautiful, but dangerous" (The Guardian)
Munch (Blog)
Go Play Bankok (Blog)
“Plea for an environment-friendly Loy Krathong" (The Nation)
World Yam