Taiwanese urged to worship online to protect environment

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Taiwan's government on Friday urged the public to stop burning incense sticks and ritual money in honour of the dead and opt instead for online worshipping to better protect the environment.

The call came ahead of Monday's Tomb Sweeping Festival, when ethnic Chinese traditionally visit the graves of their ancestors to burn incense and paper offerings.

The practice not only worsens the island's air pollution but could also cause fires, warned the cabinet-level Environmental Protection Administration.

"We can now choose to pay homage to our ancestors in a modern and environmentally friendly way by worshipping online or donating the money meant for the offerings to charities," it said in a statement.

Taiwan has vowed to cut its greenhouse gases to 2008 levels by 2020.

Studies have found that burning paper money releases a large amount of carbon dioxide, one of the main gases held responsible for global climate change.

Other substances released when paper money is burned include benzene, methylbenzene and ethylbenzene - which can cause cancer and other diseases.

The practice originated in Taoism, whose followers believe burning paper money - and everything from paper cars to paper Viagra - will ensure their dead ancestors are comfortable in the after-life.

Environmental agencies have also offered to collect the paper money from households and temples to burn in state incinerators that can treat the exhaust.

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