“Conservational beliefs and traditional customs should not be prohibited due to environmental concerns. The two are not in contradiction, they could be balanced.” said Amber Chen, an activity manager of Culture Art and Nature (CAN).
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Are you planning a Taiwan tour or a family trip? Have you ever heard about “sky lantern”? If the answer is positive, you might be acquainted with “Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival”, which has been held in Taiwan since 1999. For being rated as the “Second Largest Carnival in the World” by Discovery and being named one of the “10 Best Winter Trips” by National Geographic. Apart from that, “Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival” was once again voted of the “Cultural Event Most Worthy of Recommendation to International Travelers” in Taiwan through the world’s biggest travel website – TripAdvisor last year. (Read More: Pingxi, Taiwan (CNN) — It’s one of Taiwan’s most breathtaking spectacles.)
Taiwan is a country full of festivals, such as Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival (Read More: 5 Taiwanese Customs to Celebrate Moon Festival) and The Lantern Festival. The highlight of the lantern festival certainly is the celebration hosted in Pingxi. In particular, Pingxi sits the east of New Taipei City, which is a perfect option for Taipei private day tour. During the period from 2017 to 2018, Pingxi attracted more than 13.8 million visitors and beat the Taipei 101 by being picked as one of the most popular sightseeing spot in Taiwan by international travelers in 2017. According to official statistics, tourists in Pingxi has increased from 1.24 million in 2010 to 3.36 million in 2015. Furthermore, the number almost doubled to 6.36 million in 2016.
The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival is one of Taiwan’s most famous festivals that truly attracts tourists from all over the world. Releasing sky lantern into the sky to wish for good luck and blessings, is the memory that most Taiwanese share. On top of that, those floating lanterns mark an unforgettable impression in both locals’ and foreigners’ minds. Before long, this tradition has become notorious “environment killer”. In the past few years, local has begun to guilt people into lighting up sky lanterns since the environmental controversy.
What kind of controversy has sky lantern provoked? Firstly, let’s talk about what sky lantern is made of and how it works. Assembled by oiled rice paper, metal wires and bamboo frames. The flame inside the lantern heats the air and reduces the density, bringing the lantern up into the sky. When sky lanterns burn out, they fall randomly either into the river or trees. Some lantern parts are biodegradable, but the bamboo parts take months to decomposition, let alone the metal wires barely disintegrate. The remains not only pollute ecosystem, but also threaten local wildlife potentially. Not to mention how big amount of garbage are generated.
Approximately 300,000-400,000 sky lanterns are released in Pingxi every year. 600,000 pieces of trash are launched during the sky lantern festival into the surrounding mountains including other plastic wastes. Groups of worldwide volunteers came to Pingxi for cleaning up the mess after the festivals. They walked along the railroad, trails, down to the river and surrounding woods to collect tons of thousands of litters. Being aware of the damages will bring to the environment, people tend not to participating in this event nowadays. Is the problem solved once and for all?
This is simply not the case. In fact, usable remains of lanterns are usually collected by elderly residents. Each can be resold to the government-run recycling center, for NT$7 per frame and NT$1 per paper. To reduce the environmental impact, the government offers rewards for returning the abandoned lanterns. The more volunteers cleaning up, the less residents can earn. Moreover, the entire industry, such as local shops and hotels, are fed with sky lanterns. Once Pingxi isn’t that attractive anymore, how significant the impact would be on the local livelihoods?
Fortunately, Shao founded a company called “Bank Culture” in 2016 for the purpose of recording, protecting and innovating Taiwan’s traditional culture. To provide an alternative, her team has begun to make lanterns more friendly to the planet. In 2018, Shao crowd-funded online for their second edition lanterns and raised more than 1.6 million new Taiwan dollars (about 52,000 U.S. dollars) in merely two months and a half. The latest design replaced the bamboo frame from the previous one with paper structure. Thus the new concept is that the lantern can be burned out entirely in the air, “with nothing falling on the ground,” said Shao.
To sum up, we might never seek a solution for a win-win situation. We’ve noticed that sky lantern is actually not the only one to blame on; mountain of trash attributes to the bad habits by human instead of traditions. That is to say, either mankind starts to have self-awareness to the mother earth or we could preserve customs in more sustainable way. “The two are not in contradiction, they could be balanced.” said Amber Chen.
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