Sunday, August 8, 2010

Eco-Wedding; Wish Lanterns and Greenwashing

Recently a reader emailed me about something called 'Wish Lanterns'. She had been considering them for her small wedding and was wondering about their 'eco-cred'; were they safe to deploy over water?

This is a fantastic example of greenwashing and the complexity of choosing 'green'.

For those of you non-wedding obsessed like moi, Wish Lanterns are cylindrical dealies made of some kind of paper with a hot air balloon like bit in the middle. You light it up, make a wish and send it floating away in the night. Very cool and after taking a peak at the pictures I also had a 'wow, that would be fun for our wedding' moment.

 image taken from Wish Lanterns website

On the official site, Wish Lanterns claim to be 99% biodegradable, will not harm the environment and will 'float gently to the ground' once the wick has burned out.

Although there was some information on the website as to what materials are used in a wish lantern, I really was looking for specifics on what they consider '99% biodegradable'. So I sent them a quick email requesting specifics on materials and treatments used. My response:

'Materials used are rice paper, bamboo and a thin piece of metal wire. The fuel cell is made up of cotton, paper and wax'

Nothing regarding exactly how they get the rice-bamboo paper to be flame-retardant. I responded by requesting specifics regarding chemical paper treatment a week ago. No response.

I considered the possibility that rice-bamboo paper was somehow magically naturally flame-retardant. A quick wiki search confirmed my doubts- no magical rice oil flame stopper. 

With this information, disregarding claims, let's look at the eco-scale of a wish lantern:

- 99% biodegradable really has no meaning. Everything has the potential to degrade into smaller versions or portions of the whole. Some pretty scary pesticides and chemicals can 'biodegrade' into smaller and more toxic chemical versions. Without any sort of follow up, this label is useless.

- Creating rice-bamboo paper actually involves resources, chemicals, water and energy. There is no guarantee or information regarding where the paper is sourced, whether the bamboo or rice was taken from destroyed rainforest land (sadly, the spike in bamboo interest has resulted in some pretty scary deforestation for bamboo plantations...)

- Paper+fire=combustion. In order to stop this from happening they would need a flame retardant treatment. As their website states, wish lanterns are 'non-flammable' which logically means they've been treated by flame retardant chemicals. Unless they are using funky new treatments (which would jack up the price, so probably not) commonly used flame retardants are considered extremely harmful to the environment and human health: not exactly something I'd like to leave out to break down into our soil.

- Finally, metal may be considered a natural substance, but it definitely isn't something that would break down quickly. Depending on what kind of metal, it may not even be safe to leave in soil. Recyclability is unknown as well, certain areas only take some types of metal to recycle (like aluminum). 

Final verdict- Wish Lanterns are not, in fact, a good environmental choice, but a pseudo-green choice. Which is kinda sad, cuz I think they would have looked uber cool at our wedding..... 

Ah well, we can always write up small 'wishes' on scrap pieces of paper (we'll have enough recycled-paper cardstock bits lefts over from our invitations!) and 'send them off' via bonfire that night :)


article copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. Whatever happened to the days when people sent up paper lanterns without any of that flame-retardant crap...or, for that matter, put lit candles in their Christmas trees? Okay...lotsa people's houses and stuff ended up burning down.

    Ultimately, I suspect when you're dealing with something like sending things that are on fire up in the air, there may never be a way to make it happen without either damaging the environment with destructive chemicals or torching the neighborhood.

  2. thanks for this post...i am so glad you weren't afraid to question what they said...i get so upset when people let balloons go for whatever reason, as if they'll just turn into thin air and not eventually land somewhere - it's littering and toxic! the question to ask is, if this landed somewhere else would you be OK with an animal eating it?

  3. I love the bonfire idea. Keep it simple!

  4. What a shame, because they would be so pretty...

    But saying that, as an (ex) Aussie, I can't help but think of the fire hazard...I'm sure they'd be banned in Australia!

  5. LOVE the wishes-into-bonfire idea...

    the lanterns would have looked so pretty -- and very dramatic -- but yeah, not so enviro-cool.

    i'm with EcoGrrl on balloons of any variety -- HATE them with a passion and am happily passing on my enviro-loathing of them to my children. People just.don't.think. do they?


    you rock.

  6. I love that you'll have a bonfire at your wedding! I also like the idea of tying paper wishes to tree branches. I can't wait to see pictures of your wedding. :)

  7. Ugh, I'm so sorry about that. I hate getting my hopes up and then finding out that it's not so eco-friendly after all! :(

    While you are planning your wedding, I'm "re-birthing" my shop, and I feel like we are facing a lot of similar issues. You would not BELIEVE how hard it is to find tinted glass (to protect the oils and herbs) jars with METAL lids. Everything is plastic, or sold out. I even found one vendor and was so excited by their selection of jars, but I had this funny feeling. Why weren't they listing the material that their caps were made from? So I asked, and sure enough, they were plastic, made to LOOK like metal. I'll be posting on this soon, as it is really become a problem. But I won't give up.

    I LOVE the bonfire thing. I'm all for bonfires, in general, lol. Or one of those outdoor fireplaces. Love them. That would be beautiful.

    Good luck!!

  8. What a wonderful idea these wish lanterns! But alas... not worth it in the end.

    The bonfire idea is great! I have done a couple of rituals with community gatherings where we wrote down things we wished, or things we wanted to let go of and burned it together. It can be as simple as just placing some kind of metal contained in the middle of a circle and just lighting a match! Still has a lot of meaning. :)

    Good luck with all of your wedding plans, Ecoyogini!


I love hearing from you! So I don't miss a comment, I like "pre-approving" them :)
I ask only that we stay respectful.
Also, please note that this is a personal blog and not a space for advertising your company. I reserve the right to delete "advertising" comments.

**NB: The ANONYMOUS option is the BEST way to comment if you don't have a blogger or established google/gmail account.