Craftsmen yesterday said they had measures in place to retrieve lanterns and make them less of an environmental hazard in response to concerns about the annual Sky Lantern Festival in New Taipei City’s Pingsi District (平溪).
This year’s festival is being held today at Shihfen Plaza (十分廣場) using lanterns carrying images from Taiwan’s and Japan’s tourism industries.
The Taiwan-themed lanterns feature images from New Taipei City’s Yehliu (野柳) and Jiufen (九份) tourist attractions, while the Japan-themed lanterns feature images of Tokyo’s Skytree, Senso-ji and other tourist spots, organizers said.
Officials from Daisen in Japan’s Akita Prefecture are to attend and help launch the lanterns.
Akita’s Ota Township has a similar tradition of launching sky lanterns, known as the Ota himatsuri, or Ota fire festival, the organizers said, adding that this year’s festival in Pingsi is to be a cultural exchange of sorts between the two nations.
New Taipei City Cultural Development Association director-general Hu Min-shu (胡民樹) said that environmental concerns over the festival are misplaced.
The mostly paper and bamboo lanterns burn almost completely before they fall to the ground, Hu said, while most unburned pieces that fall in the hills in the area decompose.
The wire frame of the lanterns can be recycled, Hu said, and people are motivated to gather them because they can earn NT$30,000 on average from selling the frames.
“Post-festival recycling is a duty and an obligation,” Hu said. “Locals seldom make lanterns from entirely new materials — parts are reused for up to five years.”
Two-thirds of the 300,000 lanterns constructed every year are made from recycled material, Hu said.
Local artisan and founder of start-up The Culture Bank Shao Ai-ting (邵璦婷) said lantern makers are beginning to use bamboo frames and water-soluble paper.
“Finding a balance between tradition and environmental friendliness is not that hard, it just takes action,” Shao said. “I hope we can keep pushing for more environmentally friendly lanterns.”
In an effort to cut down on the environmental harm of falling lanterns, the New Taipei City Government’s Environmental Protection Department announced it would give city-issued garbage bags or lifestyle products in exchange for lantern paper brought to them at specified times throughout the week.
It is working with three businesses in the area to set up recycling stations that would accept the waste lantern paper, the department said, adding that several local establishments would be paying cash for wire frames.
Meanwhile, the Tourism and Travel Department said it would hold a mountain cleanup on Feb. 19 and Feb. 25 led by author Liu Ke-hsiang (劉克襄) and cultural historian Kuo Tsung-neng (郭聰能).
The tourism department said that while collecting festival waste from the hills, the group would visit eight culturally significant spots in the area.