Posted by: Bystander PJ17 NOV 2011
In my very first contribution to this page (PJ, 23 May, 2009, p627) I wrote about a campaign to stop the deliberate release into the air of helium-filled latex balloons because of the risk that balloon debris poses to wildlife.
But latex balloons are not the only form of hazardous litter we willfully launch into the air. There is a growing craze for releasing Chinese sky lanterns into the night sky during parties.
Sky lanterns are small hot air balloons usually made from oiled rice paper on a wire frame and heated by a candle or a waxy fuel cell. The heat of the flame can carry sky lanterns a mile into the air and they can travel up to 30 miles before burning out. However, they can also sink to earth before their flames have died, with the risk of starting fires in crops and buildings.
Last year a sky lantern released during a party caused a fire that destroyed seven acres of barley crop in Oxfordshire. In April this year, sky lanterns launched from a beach in Northumberland dropped back into the dunes and started three separate fires that took 20 firefighters four hours to extinguish. In June, a ton of paper and printer cartridges caught fire in a Somerset warehouse after a sky lantern fell on them. And in July a family home in Wiltshire was badly damaged in a fire started by a sky lantern.
Because of the height to which sky lanterns can rise, the Civil Aviation Authority is concerned that they could be sucked into plane engines. And the National Farmers’ Union says that farm animals are dying after eating the wire frames of ditched lanterns.
Some other countries have already banned sky lanterns, and perhaps it is time for the UK to follow suit.
Watching a group of sky lanterns rising into the darkness may be a memorable experience. But it is something we should be prepared to forgo because of the risk to crops, property, livestock, wildlife and aviation.