Sky lanterns are popular at festivals, weddings, and remembrance ceremonies. While they appear beautiful while floating in the night sky, care should be taken when releasing them. Sky lanterns are essentially a small hot air balloon made of paper with an opening at the bottom where a tea light is suspended.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Trading Standards team has issued advice on releasing sky lanterns. They say that sky lanterns should only be released in still conditions and away from any homes or other obstacles.
Trading Standards Principal Advisor, Martin Rushton said that while sky lanterns are very attractive when flying, people should think twice before lighting them, as there is a real risk or injury or damage.
'Care should be taken with anything that contains a naked flame.
'Many sky lantern suppliers have a disclaimer that they have no responsibility for accidents or injury caused and that anyone releasing lanterns, which cause a fire, could be liable. Consumers should keep this in mind when they release the lanterns, as they may be responsible for the costs.'
For instance, New Zealand law places responsibility for the cost of fire damage and fire suppression in rural areas on the person who started the fire. This can run into many thousands of dollars.
Some issues with sky lanterns include:
- Fire risk – there is evidence in other countries that the use of sky lanterns has caused fires at certain times of year when vegetation and weather conditions have made sites vulnerable to fire. They may also land on, and ignite flammable materials.
- Not biodegradable – while the paper can degrade, some lanterns are made with wire. There are some without wire that use cane, wool, or string – but these still take time to degrade and could cause issues with littering, as well as for livestock.
- Dangers to livestock – there have been examples of cattle and sheep eating the lanterns and wire. This has caused injury to stomachs and mouths. There are recorded cases in the UK of animal deaths from internal injury.
- Could be confused with distress flares – the UK Coastguard has been called out on false alarms when lanterns have been confused with distress flares.
There are safety tips and more information on the Ministry of Consumer Affairs website.