Releasing Chinese lanterns and helium balloons

Avoid where possible

Releasing Chinese lanterns and helium balloons into the air can be an enjoyable experience during times of celebration. However, these activities have the potential to cause substantial harm to both humans and wildlife, and should be avoided where possible. 

In fact, these activities can be so problematic that a number of large organisations (including the Fire Service, RSPCA, the CAA, DEFRA, the National Farmers Union and the Marine Conservation Society) have all run campaigns against the release of Chinese lanterns and/or helium balloons.

Why is releasing Chinese lanterns and helium balloons so problematic?

Releasing Chinese lanterns and helium balloons can be problematic as they can:

  • Cause injury to wildlife and livestock - animals may eat parts of sky lanterns or deflated balloons when they come down on land or in the sea. Parts may be accidentally chopped into animal feed during harvest. Sharp parts can damage an animal's digestive system and balloons may block it. Animals and birds may also get caught up in fallen wire frames or string and suffer injury and distress in struggling to get free. Marine and aquatic life is also endangered by lanterns and balloons falling into rivers, lakes and other water bodies. 
  • Cause fires - falling sky lanterns may set fire to buildings, dry standing crops, camping sites, forestry, stores of hay/straw, peat moorland, etc. The risk of fire is particularly high during dry summer days. Once released, lanterns can be carried many miles before descending back to ground level. The unpredictability of the landing area whilst possibly still having a naked flame makes Chinese lanterns a considerable fire risk.
  • Increase local litter – once balloons and lanterns have dropped back to the ground they become litter in the environment. Balloons which are made from non-biodegradable material are particularly problematic as they will stay in the local environment for a long amount of time. 
  • Impact air safety - balloons and sky lanterns may be drawn into aircraft engines or may be a distraction to pilots. For this reason, DEFRA guidance suggests that lanterns and balloons should not be released within 10 nautical miles of an airfield. 
  • Cause problems for rescue services - sometimes lanterns are mistaken for distress flares by rescue services. 

Is it illegal to release Chinese lanterns or helium balloons?

Within North Kesteven it is not illegal to release Chinese lanterns or helium balloons. However, undertaking these actions is discouraged and should be avoided due to the damage that they can cause to humans and wildlife.

Ideas for how to reduce the impact of your celebrations

Instead of undertaking a lantern or balloon release consider undertaking alternative celebratory activities such as flying kites, using balloons on strings, using stationary candles/nightlights, using static lanterns or outdoor lights, or try attaching lanterns to trees.

When using balloons for any celebratory event, it is recommended to only use balloons made from natural material. Helium balloons which are not made from natural materials are generally made of foil (mylar), which does not biodegrade. Alternatively, some balloons are made of latex, which are created using the sap of rubber trees, which is a more natural material that biodegrades.  Therefore, latex balloons should be used over foil (mylar) balloons where possible.