Thu, Feb 28, 2019 - Page 13 News List

What happens when sky lanterns fall?

Dreams go up in smoke in the hills of Pingsi District

By Davina Tham  /  Staff reporter

ENVIRONMENTAL OUTCRY

After years of outcry by environmental groups, the New Taipei City Government has made some attempts to address the environmental costs of the sky lanterns, such as introducing monetary incentives for recycling. But it still bows to the tourism imperative. It is difficult to do otherwise, since sky lanterns support the livelihoods of local shopkeepers, innkeepers, train and bus operators and recycling vigilantes, to name a few.

As with previous years, the city authorities organized their own official sky lantern clean-up on Feb. 24. About 200 people participated. Ironically, the event included a miniature sky lantern decoration segment, as if to whet participants’ appetite for the real thing.

Some concerned citizens are taking matters into their own hands. In 2016, a local start-up, The Culture Bank, made the news for designing lanterns using rice paper, which is readily biodegradable and dissolves in the rain. But higher costs and a stubborn adherence to tradition mean that their lanterns have yet to break into the market.

In the absence of upstream improvements, there continues to be a need for downstream fixes like volunteer clean-ups. In two hours, our band of 25 volunteers picked up 326.15kg of trash. The haul was not limited to lanterns, but also included cigarette packs and recyclable drink bottles and cans.

Despite the Sisyphean effort, there is a sense of achievement knowing that an afternoon of physical labor using the basic functions of my limbs has made a tangible contribution to the environment. It’s enough to make me think I could do it again.

■ On May 25, the 3rd annual Taiwan National Clean-Up Day organized by Taiwan Adventure Outings will take place in 20 locations across the island. To find out about participation or sponsorship opportunities, contact Ryan Hevern at ryan@taoutings.com or (0963) 520-946 and visit: www.facebook.com/groups/TaiwanAdventureOutings/.

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