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 ecoyogini.blogspot.com