16 February 2011

Sky lanterns at Chingay: deliberately released debris

4,000 sky lanterns were released at the recent Chingay parade. The release was among the highlights listed for the parade on the Chingay website.
What goes up eventually comes down. So there's 4,000 sky lanterns somewhere out there. [Updates: It seems the sky lanterns weren't intended for release after all. Which is a relief to know. But nevertheless, many were released. See comments below.]

We know mass balloon releases add to the enormous problem of marine debris, and balloons can be eaten by marine life which choke and kill them. What about sky lanterns?

A sky lantern is made up of paper and wire or bamboo frames. Apparently, the paper biodegrades within "six to eight weeks", and the wire take nine months to break down.
Photo featured on the Chingay facebook page.
Some potential dangers of sky lanterns include: the wires being a hazard to livestock - "like eating razorblades" (no doubt also to any wildlife which might eat them), the lanterns being mistaken for distress flares and being a fire hazard near trees.

In Penang, sky lanterns are banned. On 11 Feb 11 the Transport Ministry in Penang warned that sky lanterns were a hazard to aircraft. These sky lanterns could climb to a height of 1,800m, where they can be sucked into an aircraft’s engines and cause the plane to catch fire and explode in mid-air. The ministry and police warned that the Civil Aviation Act 1969, Section 285 of the Penal Code and Section 5 of the Explosives Act 1957 would be used to arrest those who broke the law.

In addition to Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand have already banned the release of sky lanterns.

During Lunar New Year 2010, there was a letter to the Straits Times Forum commenting: 'Setting off fireworks is illegal here. Shouldn't these floating lanterns also be declared illegal?' and highlighting the fire hazard of such lanterns.

Why were so many sky lanterns released at Chingay?
According to a Straits Times report, this was "a bid to set a local record".

Ironically, in an earlier Straits Times article "Keeping Chinese New Year events clean and tidy" it was reported that the National Environment Agency (NEA) is stepping up efforts to keep the upcoming River Hongbao, Chinatown Lunar New Year countdown and Chingay events as clean as possible.

Just a week before Chingay, according to Channel NewsAsia, the NEA issued 11 tickets for littering and 17 tickets to illegal hawkers from January 14 to February 2.

See also this earlier post about sky lanterns.


  1. Hi, just a note that the sky lanterns released during Chingay were tight to ropes, and after the record was set, they were all pulled down. The ropes can actually be seen in the photo you posted. It was shown on TV as well.

  2. Oh that's a relief to know! Thanks for this info.

  3. There were lots of balloons (perhaps the conventional rubber ones) seen stuck in the Singapore Eye as they floated away after being released by parade participants/attendees. Sigh. There should be a law against balloon release. And why not? We did ban chewing gum some years ago. ~ A. Nony Mous II

  4. Ria - I was there at the parade on the second night. About half of the sky lanterns were released by the performers. It is dreadful that the balloon release took place! No balloons at the next Chingay parade, please! LK

  5. Oh dear, so sorry to hear that A. Nony MousII and LK! Thanks for your updates. I didn't attend the event so it's good to hear from those who were actually present.



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