10 Aug 2022
Balloons are unique among all the man-made litter and debris found in the ocean and on the land. This is because people purchase helium-filled balloons with the intent of releasing them into the environment. Too many people still participate in balloon releases because they do not make the connection that when balloons go up they come back to Earth as potentially harmful litter. Balloons are the third deadliest form of marine debris (fishing gear, plastic bags & utensils, cigarette butts, and bottle caps are included in the top five).
Types of Balloon Litter:
These balloons are made with the sap from a rubber tree. During the manufacturing process many chemicals are added to raw rubber including pigments, oils, curing agents and accelerators. While natural latex balloons are considered biodegradable by some, it has been argued that latex balloons may take several months to several years to biodegrade. According to the study, “Balloon Litter on Virginia’s Remote Beaches,” 56% of all littered balloons recorded were latex.
These are often incorrectly referred to as Mylar balloons. “Mylar” is actually a brand name for a special type of polyester film. Foil or metallic balloons are made of plastic (nylon) sheets coated with polyethylene and metallic materials that are sealed together with heat. Experience shows that these metallic inks and paints flake off when exposed to environmental factors leaving a clear plastic balloon. Over time, foil balloons break up into smaller pieces but are not biodegradable.
Helium-filled balloons often have plastic ribbons and other attached items such as plastic valves, tie-off discs, and clips. It is also common to find plastic ribbons that have become separated from balloons.
Impacts of Balloon Litter
Released balloons can drift hundreds, and even thousands of miles, carried first on wind currents and coming back down on land, or falling into the ocean, where they can then be carried by currents hundreds of additional miles.
Latex balloons can burst in the atmosphere, so that when they fall into the water they resemble jellyfish, a favorite food of sea turtles.
Many species of marine wildlife, including the endangered Kemp’s ridley, have been reported to ingest balloons. While one turtle was lucky to be rescued, another died with two latex balloons lodged in its gastrointestinal tract.
The metallic inks and paints on foil balloons flake off when exposed to the environment, leaving a clear plastic balloon, which to a hungry sea turtle can look similar to jellyfish.
Balloon litter can also endanger or kill birds. Nests can be filled with balloons and ribbons, birds can become entangled in balloon ribbon and become trapped on power lines, and even farm animals have ingested balloons and ribbons.
People also are negatively impacted by balloons when foil balloons become entangled in power lines and cause wide-spread power outages. The negative impacts of balloon litter are far reaching!
There are many memorable, long lasting and picture perfect alternatives to releasing balloons that have another great benefit: they don’t create harmful litter. Consider using one of the following alternatives for your next celebration or ceremony:
- Distribute noise makers to celebrate at parties, at outdoor sporting events, weddings and other joyful events. Raise the level of excitement.
- Hold a beach, park or waterway cleanup in a place you visited and enjoyed to remember a loved-one or to honor a person or group that impacted your life. Invite the press to attend to draw attention to the event.
- Plant a native tree in your yard, or with approval in a park or place special to your loved one to remember them. Add a plaque with a special message.
- Contribute to benches, plaques, bricks, or another permanent memorial to remember loved-ones.
- Create a colorful wildlife garden with native plants that will attract butterflies and birds. To remember a life, support life.
- Wave ribbons wands with your wedding guests in your colors. Add bells for a joyful noise. Easy to make as a delightful pre-wedding activity with your family and friends. Go to JoyfulSendoff.org for more ideas.
- Hold a community or family candlelight vigil to remember a loved one. It is a beautiful healing event.
- Plant a native tree to celebrate the birth of a child, or sponsor a tree at a restoration planting nearby. Take a picture of the child with the tree every year to show how they grow and reach new heights together.
- Throw colorful beach balls into the air to celebrate, or toss to one another. Add more fun by putting hints on them for others to guess who tossed the ball.
- Blow and release bubbles to celebrate, to honor or to remember with people of all ages. As they rise, they lift your prayers, love, and spirits.
- Share yarn or paper pom poms with guests to celebrate. Cheerfully wish a child or an adult a happy birthday, or a happy retirement. Create pom poms in your favorite sport team colors. Pom poms help create colorful and fun pictures.
- Use glow sticks, signs, and noise makers to honor essential workers and first responders in your community.
- Let paper airplanes fly to celebrate and to honor. Have guests write their well wishes on the airplane wings to save in your party scrap-book.
Image and all information courtesy of PreventBalloonLitter.org. Please visit their site for more information and to take the pledge to never participate in a balloon release. Note: Balloon releases are ILLEGAL in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Rhode Island, and Tennessee (https://balloonsblow.org/balloon-laws/).