TAIPEI • As Taiwan lights up for the start of its annual lantern festival, one eco-friendly craftsman is breaking with tradition. Lantern-maker Lin Chow-chin is part of a growing movement on the island to make the celebrations greener, creating sustainable lights that can be converted into everything from desk lamps to flower vases.
Each year, huge electric sculptures go on display in Taiwan's major cities. Children carry tiny disposable lanterns and the skies fill with floating lights for the festival that marks the end of two weeks of Chinese New Year festivities.
Environmentalists say used lanterns are not properly recycled and pile up as rubbish, while batteries inside them contain hazardous chemicals that cause pollution. Mr Lin hopes to help combat the problem by making lanterns that owners will want to keep rather than discard.
He experimented with making them in his youth and even considered exporting them as a business, but gave up the dream for a steady post-office job. After retiring seven years ago, Mr Lin reignited his passion - with a new twist.
"I don't want to see lantern-making become a fading art, so hopefully, the creative, environmental and practical aspects can appeal to more young people," he said.
His lanterns come in many shapes and sizes, some using recycled paper, leaves and plant fibres.
Mr Lin has patented a removable plastic stopper that connects to a light bulb inside the lantern. When the bulb is taken out, users can connect the stopper to a water bottle and recycle the lantern as a vase.
Some of the lantern frames are made from self-assembled cardboard cutouts, which Mr Lin says are popular with students, as they can be used as pen holders, and come with spare parts that can be modelled into sculptures and business card holders.
It is still a small business, and Mr Lin makes all the lanterns himself from home, selling around 800 a year by word of mouth. But interest in his art has seen him conduct workshops across Taiwan and stage exhibitions in Hong Kong and China.
Taiwan's tourism bureau, which sponsors the island's biggest lantern celebrations featuring huge electric lights in the shape of zodiac animals, said the creations are now being "adopted" after the festival, mostly by schools and local government departments.