East Lothian Council: Policy on Balloon and Chinese/Sky Lantern Releases
The impressive visual impact of balloons and sky lanterns being released into the sky may last a few minutes, but the impact upon the environment and wildlife can last many months, with potentially harmful consequences. Due to this, East Lothian Council has recently had a new policy approved prohibiting balloon and lantern releases at events.
This is not a prevention of fun policy or policy to ban the sale of balloons. This policy is about protecting the environment, agricultural land, scenery, livestock and wildlife of firstly East Lothian but also, consequently, Scotland as a whole.
The Policy focuses on events being organised or held on Council land and any event supported, endorsed or requiring a licence, including those on private land. It will be included in the terms and conditions of leases, hires and licences.
The term “release” has been defined to exclude an accidental release by a child or adult, where one might be let go at a fete or funfair. It doesn’t stop the sale of balloons, balloon displays or fancy balloon features at charity events.
The policy stipulates the intentional act of releasing balloons or lanterns into the general environment and seeks to prohibit mass releases, where that one moment of pleasure can have harmful consequences down the line.
The release of balloons and lanterns could be viewed as littering under the Environmental Protection Act, which makes it an offence to deposit litter in public places. However statutory interpretation would suggest that this only occurs where the balloon or lantern falls. Only at this point can it be classed as litter. Tracing the perpetrator is obviously difficult at this time. What is certain is that it is the responsibility of the local authority to ensure that public places remain free from litter and as such, East Lothian Council is fulfilling its statutory duties through the development of this policy on intentional balloon and lantern releases.
As an example, latex balloons can rise to a height of five miles before undergoing brittle fracture. The pieces of balloon then fall back down but 5-10% do not burst, and float back down whole and partially deflated.
Balloon pieces or whole balloons can cause entanglement and choking in livestock and wildlife, as well as requiring resources from local authorities to tidy their public spaces free from litter.
Chinese or sky lanterns pose similar threats to livestock and wildlife as balloons and the coastguard have received false callouts from their use. Lanterns also pose a fire hazard to dry standing crops, stacks of hay or straw, forestry and farm buildings and thatched cottages.

A number of organisations have pushed and supported the Council policies on balloon and lanterns releases, such as the RNLI, NFUS, Keep Scotland Tidy, RSPB and the Marine Conservation Society. Corporate businesses and organisations no longer support or use balloon releases at events, including Barclays, Marks & Spencer, Sainsburys , Norwich Union, to name but a few. In addition, a number of charities are also following suit.
In December, Fife and Inverclyde Councils joined eight other Scottish local authorities in banning the intentional release of balloons and/or lanterns under similar policies.
In terms of local public perception of this policy, I received a letter from a ten year old school girl from Tranent just before Christmas outlining how balloon releases can affect marine and wild life. She outlined how balloons or their pieces are mistaken for jellyfish and eaten, and how strings strangle.
She then asked what the Council’s policy is for balloon releases. Her last paragraph reads:
“East Lothian has an abundance of beautiful coastlines and a variety of important wildlife. I hope that the Council are doing all they can to preserve this. A big and extremely helpful step towards this is to ban balloon releases.”
Times change and I hope we are nearing the end of the fashionable mass release of balloons and lanterns. However, I fear there is some time left before the public are fully aware of the dangers such releases bring. We have an opportunity to implement a policy that helps minimise the impact of intentional releases, whilst also saving resource in clean up.
In implementing the policy, we seek to raise awareness of environmental consequences and promote alternatives. With this message, to those events that we cannot directly influence, we hope that this awareness fosters change and a realisation that intentionally releasing balloons and lanterns in East Lothian is not acceptable.
This is not a kill-joy policy but a policy where joy doesn’t have to kill and I am delighted that the Cabinet of East Lothian Council approved the Policy:
All balloon and lantern releases on Council owned land and property; and at events licensed, endorsed or supported by the Council, including those on non-Council land, are prohibited.
East Lothian Council will raise awareness of environmental consequences of balloon and Chinese/sky lantern releases and promote alternatives.
It is the responsibility of all Services to comply with and implement this policy as appropriate to their Service.
It is hoped that publicising the policy and promoting alternatives will also lead to a reduction in smaller scale private releases, as the public become more aware of the dangers they pose.

Derek Oliver, Service Manager – Environmental Health