You have to admit, the sight of a Chinese lantern rising up into the sky can really pull at the heart strings, especially – and this is an increasing fashion – if you’re launching it in the memory of a loved one.
The real sad part is that many people don’t think what happens when they come down again. Never mind the fact that launched in coastal areas, they’re often mistaken for distress flares, leading to boat coast guards and lifeboat crews wasting time and money on false alarms. Elsewhere, they’re a real risk wherever they touch down.
First of all, the wire and plastic construction can land in fields, and sometimes get eaten by farm animals, with tragic results. That makes Chinese lanterns little more than remote control littering.
Worse is what happens when they come down with the lantern still burning. You bit of remote control littering suddenly becomes remote control arson. And there are reports up and down the country of fires caused by these lanterns.
One of the largest in recent years was in Smethwick in the West Midlands, where a recyling plant and 100,000 tons of plastics went up in flames because of an ill-judged Chinese lantern launch. Over 200 fire fighters took part in tackling the blaze, some put at significant risk due to somebody launching a pound’s worth of plastic and fire into the sky. Three fire fighters were hospitalised, and the damage was estimated at £6 million. CCTV footage shows the lantern landing on one of the plastic bales at the plant, before it burst into flames.
The good news is that at least one major chain has stopped stocking these airborne menaces, and others are considering their policy on selling them. Poundland is taking the lead in pulling Chinese lanterns from their shelves, and we hope that other brands will soon follow.
The Smethwick fire was a dark day for the UK waste management and recycling industry, with millions lost to damage, and life and limb put at risk. However, the fact that this fire made the news shows the rare nature of these incidents in an industry that takes health and safety very seriously indeed.
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