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After Taiwan's striking lantern festival, school kids help clean up the mess
After Taiwan's striking lantern festival, school kids help clean up the mess
Asia
After Taiwan's striking lantern festival, school kids help clean up the mess
by DZRH News01 March 2024
Volunteers retrieve a lantern stuck in a tree in New Taipei City, Taiwan February 25, 2024. REUTERS/Ann Wang

By Fabian Hamacher and Ann Wang

PINGXI, Taiwan (Reuters) - Every year on the cusp of spring, hundreds of lanterns float into the skies around a small town in northern Taiwan, a spectacular light show that is one of the island's top tourist draws.

When the flames go out though, the spent lanterns fall back to earth littering the countryside around Pingxi, in the mountains outside of Taipei.

Now a group of volunteers is leading school children to scour the countryside to gather the debris and take it to be disposed of safely.

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Chu Tai-shu said he hopes to inspire the next generation to spread the word about what he thinks is a destructive practice.

"This is the effect we want to achieve, this is why we chose to take the children," he told Reuters.

Lanterns are launched into the skies, powered by small wads of burning paper soaked in oil as a way of seeking good fortune and wishes for the year ahead, traditionally at the end of the Lunar New Year which marks the start of spring.

In Pingxi, they are released year-round. The region's damp climate - it receives one of the highest amounts of annual rainfall in Taiwan - mitigates the risk the lanterns will set off forest fires when they come back down to earth.

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But for many years, environmental groups have criticised the lantern festival as negatively impacting the fields and forests around Pingxi when leaving behind the wire frames that give them their structure.

Revellers commonly write the date of their wishes on the lanterns and Chu said he sometimes finds lanterns more than five years old on his garbage collection hikes.

New Taipei's government, which oversees the festivities, has also started organising garbage collection hikes, and has collected more than 160 kg (350 lbs) and about 21 bags of garbage over the two weeks of the festival this year, it said.

The government has also encouraged the use of more biodegradable materials such as rice paper and bamboo frames for the lanterns.

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(Reporting by Fabian Hamacher and Ann Wang; Writing by Ben Blanchard)

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