8 Safe, Green Alternatives to Sky Lantern & Balloon Releases


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Sky lanterns and balloon launches have a long history. Both balloon and lantern releases have been used for a number of occasions, such as weddings, festivals and the like. Watching pops of color float into the sky is a pretty experience, and the pictures are often beautiful.

Sky lanterns have also had military uses in the past as Chinese troops used them to send messages during times of war. Eventually, they caught on with civilians. Nowadays, sky lanterns are used in America as a decoration and a party activity. 

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Jump ahead to these sections:

  1. Candlelight Vigil
  2. Have a Bonfire
  3. Use Floating Candles
  4. Fly a Kite
  5. Release a Dove
  6. Do a Memory Walk
  7. Jam Jar Lights
  8. Smile Clouds

Unfortunately, they both harm the environment. Balloons are typically made of latex and take a long time to degrade. The bright-colored latex can also confuse and harm a number of marine and flying animals. In addition, helium is quickly becoming a precious resource on earth.

Because sky lanterns are made of fragile paper and open flame, they are flammable and can start fires. Given the caution surrounding brush fires and delicate ecosystems around the world, sky lanterns may not be worth using these days. However, we’ve brainstormed some other green and safe alternative options for your memorial service.

1. Candlelight Vigil 

Text about holding a candlelight vigil over an image of a candle

There are a few great reasons to hold a candlelight vigil. Holding a vigil is a strong and silent visual for those who are in mourning or wish to remember someone who died as a result of a tragedy. People massed together, holding lights into the darkness, is a powerful thing to witness.

If you’re looking to make it green, bring reusable fake candles, like these, flameless battery-powered candles, or have people bring their phones and turn on their camera flashes to light up the night. Vigils are normally held after sunset, and if your vigil is large enough, speakers can be invited. They can read tribute poems, deliver a eulogy, or anything you desire. 

Oftentimes candlelight vigils can be held in commemoration of someone, as well as a reaction to a tragedy or a major issue. This brings people together for the purpose of remembering someone or something important. If your loved one championed a particular cause, you can have a vigil in their honor.

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2. Have a Bonfire

Traditions are meant to bring people together and unite them. Bonfires are a great opportunity to gather a community together. If you lived in a small town, your loved one may have been loved by everyone. If that’s the case, it will be quite challenging to fit everyone into a church or similar building.

A bonfire can be a great solution, if done correctly with the right permits and safety measures in place. Not to mention, it’s a social occasion that allows people to mingle and talk. You can even roast marshmallows or hot dogs if you desire. Don't forget to bring a set of hotdog or marshmallow roasting sticks, too. 

3. Use Floating Candles

Watching candles float off into the water usually evokes strong feelings of honor and remembrance. You can usually find inexpensive floating candles in value packs on Amazon.

Lighting a candle in someone’s memory is a time-honored tradition, and this pays homage to those roots. You can plan a floating candle ceremony however you like by praying first, reciting a poem, or you can remember your loved one as you light your candle and set it off. 

There are a few things you need to consider, in order to make sure your ceremony is environmentally friendly. Critically view the area around the pond or lake. Is there a lot of dry brush or undergrowth? Are there trees hanging over the pond? If so, you might want to skip on floating candles. You should also refrain from doing this in a river.

The candle will float away, and there’s no telling where it will go after that. It’s also important to attach a string to your floating candle. You can reel it back in whenever you’re ready. That way, the waterway isn’t polluted with candle wax. 

4. Fly a Kite 

Text about flying a kite instead of releasing balloons over an image of a kite

Watching a kite sail into the sky is beautiful. This is a perfect activity in early spring, or if you live in a windy area. This is a great alternative to balloons. You can still watch bright spots of color disappear into the sky. When you’re done, you can reel them back in! That way, there’s no harm to the environment or the creatures that live in it. 

Making a kite can be the centerpiece activity of your memorial service. You can find colorful kite-making kits, like this 6-pack of kits for kids. Gathering simple craft materials and instructions from the Internet makes it fun for everyone. After the kites are made, everyone can go out together to fly them. 

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5. Release a Dove

Releasing a dove has a lot of religious and traditional symbolism. Seeing a beautiful white bird flap into the sky can be therapeutic. It can feel like releasing your loss and grief, straight up to your loved one in heaven. If you don’t believe in the religious symbolism surrounding doves and heaven, you can still enjoy this tradition anyway. 

Consider partnering with a dove training organization though, as you should never release a dove into the wild without a plan. After years of domestication, they won’t survive well alone, but that’s one reason why these organizations are in place!

Nowadays, doves are often replaced by white homing pigeons, which look very similar to doves. Homing pigeons also have amazing instincts. They will always return home, back to their place of origin. After you release your ‘dove’ into the sky, it will fly up and away, and eventually, it will come back home. This ensures the chances of its survival and a happy future.  

6. Do a Memory Walk

Text about going on a memory walk over an image of people walking on a trail

There are many versions and charities that are supported by memory walks. But if you do not have a cause to champion on behalf of your loved one, you can also do a memory walk of your own. You can create a relay, going on a hike, or climb a mountain in honor of your loved one.

If you’re not particularly athletic, then you can do a simple walk. Bring friends or family along, and hike in their favorite spot. Whether they loved walking next to the Hudson River or preferred the Appalachian Trail, embrace the adventure.

You can walk as much or as little as you like. If your physical ability is prohibitive, just going to their favorite spot is enough. If you love the great outdoors, you can also turn it into a camping trip with your friends and family.

7. Jam Jar Lights

Making jam jar lights is a great alternative to sky lanterns. They still provide gorgeous lighting but are reusable, like this 6-pack of pretty jam jar lights from Amazon. Once you’re done, pack them away and bring them out for another occasion.

Be conscious of how you choose to make your jam jars, though. You can put tea lights in them but if pets or small children will be in attendance, consider something else. You can use twinkle lights in these jars, or battery-powered bulbs. Everyone can make one and treat it like a sky lantern. Once they’re finished, you can hang them up as decorations in your home or building. 

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8. Smile Clouds

Have you ever watched a plane write a message in the sky? It’s cool to watch. But planes aren’t known for being environmentally friendly, either.

And you might not have the resources to hire a plane. If you love the idea of watching words and messages appear in the sky, you can find a greener solution. Some companies mix helium, water, and environmentally friendly soap fluid. Massive, balloon-style clouds of soap foam can float up into the sky for your viewing pleasure!

Going Green 

Brainstorming alternative memorial service ideas might not be easy. But if you’re invested in making the planet a better place to live, it’s worth it. This day and age we are able to do things in environmentally-friendly ways, ones that would never have been possible before.

No matter how you choose to plan your service, putting thought into the details is the most important part. Whether you want to write something in the clouds or plant a tree in memory, embrace your plans for a memorable service.

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