Every time I see people letting go of balloons, it’s like a stab in the gut.
At memorials, schools, weddings and other events, balloon releases are sadly not uncommon. For some people, you don’t even need a cause to let balloons go. In Indianapolis, there is a tradition going back to the 1940s of letting 500 balloons go. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway claimed that their balloons are biodegradable. To prove this statement, the Indianapolis Star conducted a study on how really biodegradable these balloons are. The results? They degraded after 11 months. That’s enough time for a living thing to eat it and die. So, in effect, they still pose a risk.
According to balloonsblow.org, “Balloons can take years to break down, even the so-called ‘biodegradable’ latex ones. This gives plenty of time for it to travel and encounter many animals that may mistake it for a tasty snack, or accidentally get entangled in it.” For example, latex balloons float for 10 hours, but take a year or more to biodegrade. When the balloons pop or get stuck, they become a hazard to wildlife. When mistaken for food, a balloon that is consumed and digested can lead to the loss of nutrition, internal injury, starvation, and death. The strings attached to the balloons also suffocate these animals and cause illness and injury. Despite being considered soft debris, balloons are still more harmful to wildlife than hard plastics.
In 2003, volunteers collected 4,228 mylar and latex balloons just from New Jersey beaches alone (source: “Balloons kill marine animals”). Mylar nylon, usually shiny because of the metallic coat, was originally made for the United States space program. The production of mylar nylon is not only dirty to produce, but also is dirty in disposal because it is made from metalized polyester, known to release micro plastics. These types of balloons are not biodegradable and should not be let go or purchased.
Balloons aren’t just harmful when they are found in the ocean; they are also harmful on land. They become ugly litter and can cause extremely dangerous power outages. Even though they are on land and potentially far away from a body of water, it can still make its way there through sewage drains. On Balloon Blow, there was a picture of a young screech owl hanging from a balloon ribbon with the caption: “This young Screech Owl is found in Pinellas County, Florida, hanging by its wing, for who knows how long, at Sawgrass Park. They were able to get a ladder, cut him down and bring him to a sanctuary, but sadly this bird didn’t make it”.
I personally have collected large amounts of trash and balloons on our very own local beaches. This is a local problem. How do you feel about going to the beach and seeing balloons and trash? So, when you go to the beach, make sure you take everything with you when you leave. Most beaches provide trash cans! Even better, pick up the trash you see, even if it’s not yours. Though efforts like these are small, they do make a difference.
If you do decide to purchase balloons, when you really shouldn’t, be responsible with them. Do not let them fly away – even if they are biodegradable. Consider alternatives such as tissue paper pompoms, streamers, flags, bubbles, and garden spinners, which are not only reusable, but can be enjoyed for years.