Luminary Sky Lantern Litter

Hi. This is Dar.
Not usual for me to write on the blog, but I developed strong emotions about this topic and I needed to vent. So here it goes:

"How pretty and peaceful."
We stopped and stayed in Quartzite for a few days during the opening of the big RV Show in mid-January and connect up with friends there. Enjoying our first evening with our friends staying in the Dome Rock area, we noticed luminaries ascending into the night sky from some distance away on the other side of the interstate. The wind carried them over our area and eventually the candle would burn out. Had to be a couple dozen go up that we saw. At first I thought, “How pretty and peaceful.” Next came my questions: How do they work? What are they made of? What happens when the flame/light goes out? What happens if it comes down before the flame goes out? Can they then start a ground fire? What happens to the balloon?

Next day on a short hike, after viewing the previous night's sky show, Thom and I came across a couple of large colorful paper balloons stuck in the desert brush. My view was quickly changed from one of “How pretty” to one of “This is nothing more than litter!... and who's going to pick it up?” Obviously those setting them aflight aren't out here picking them up...I was.

They are made of colored tissue paper (paper is coated to make it fire resistant I later read) in the shape of a hot air balloon about 30 inches high and 24 inches around at the top. A bamboo stick bent in about a 12 inch circle formed the base of the balloon. These had a thin wire connected to the bamboo circle in a criss-cross pattern and the center of the wire apparently holds a “wax fuel cell” or candle. The idea is that after lighting the wax the heat fills the paper balloon, it lifts and it drifts into the air. It is then the air currents and temperatures that determine for how high and how far the balloon will fly. There are various names: Sky lantern; Wish lantern; Kongming, or Chinese Lantern.

In my research I found that many countries, states and municipalities have banned the use of these type lanterns on the basis of 1) Fire hazard – it is no longer a constantly attended fire. Example 800 acres burned in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 2011 the result of a sky lantern. 2) Danger to domestic and wild animals – wires from lanterns that have landed in hay fields can become needles ground into hay fed to cows. Sight of a floating sky lantern have spooked some animals to run and get caught in fences. Small wild animals have gotten caught in the wire. 3) Interfere with air traffic – as in Sanya, China when too many lanterns from a festival remained in the sky near the airport delaying flights. 4) Mistaken as emergency flares at sea. 5) Litter – what goes up must come down. What is beautiful going up is an eyesore the next day. And who is responsible for cleaning it up?

Researching I found they are labeled as “Biodegradable”. What does that mean? How long does paper and wire take to biodegrade? In a July 31, 2009 article by Leo Hickman in the UK newspaper, The Guardian, he interviewed a supplier and was told the paper takes 6-8 weeks to biodegrade and the wire 9 months on average. WHAT!!!! And this is under ideal conditions that provide moisture and proper temperatures. While clearing ground on my parents farm to put in our RV pad a few years ago, we found lots of thin wire that had been there for decades and hadn't “biodegraded”. I'm standing here in the desert. How long will it take in a desert?!! We can find debris left from the gold rush era and still see tracks all over the desert, ground from Patton's tanks training here during WWII … that's over 70 years ago. The desert is very slow at decomposition. One manufacturer claims they don't use wire so it's more environmentally friendly. What does environmentally friendly mean?

We took another short 2/3 mile hike off Plamosa Rd north of Quartzite and saw 15 of these sky lanterns littering the ground in colors of white, pink, purple, orange, yellow. Colorful yes, but what just happened to our walk in the supposedly pristine desert. Maybe they're biodegradable, eventually, but it certainly isn't environmentally friendly from my view at that time.

Pretty or Litter? ... Looks like litter to me!

This was the week of the big Quartzite RV show. There are thousands of RVs out in the desert. I have tried to rationalize that most RVers are more conscientious about the environment; they are water and electric conservationists at heart as we live off limited water and electric while boon-docking; enjoy and revel in the beauty of our nation and it's parks and assist in their preservation. We've been full-time RVing for 8 years and I suddenly was ashamed by some in this group, to have un-thinkingly littered all over the place.

I could only reach 12 of the 15 lanterns to bring back and throw in the trash where they belonged. And I'm sure there were many more we didn't see. And this is just in the first couple days of the RV show. What's it like out there when it's all over a week later. Every little bit adds up. You McDonald's bag, Kleenex and toilet paper are biodegradable, as are my paper plates and napkins, food waste, and body waste, but I can't just toss or leave these just anywhere I see fit.

These sky lanterns are unsightly litter the next day!

As the old sayings go:
“Don't Be A Litter Bug”
“Give A Hoot! Don't Pollute!”