By Katherine De Angelis
Over the years, humans all over the world have become more conscious of how their actions affect the environment. People are now realizing the size of the problem, with plastic bottles, certain types of clothing fabric, and plastic bags polluting the planet at an increasing rate since their development. Every now and then, a new topic of pollution comes up and, recently, the popping new topic has been balloons.
The rubber balloon, developed by Professor Michael Faraday, was introduced in 1824 and since then has been a household staple for every gathering, party, and event. Balloon releases eventually became a tradition at a variety of events including memorials, graduations, weddings, coming home events, and so many more. Although these beautiful toy-like creations have brought joy and memories to countless hearts across the world, the acknowledgment that they may do more harm than good is being brought up more frequently. Pollutants like plastic have been invading the planet’s oceans, shores, and environment causing devastating repercussions to the wildlife that inhabit it.
Even though balloons are released innocently, they have an unintended side effect: they come back down to Earth in the form of trash that clutters the environment. Just as turtles and other sea creatures mistake plastic bags for food sources, the same can be said about balloons. A variety of reports document many animals, including sea turtles, whales, fish, and dolphins, that have been found with balloons, strings, and plastic bags in their stomachs. The balloon ribbon can cause entanglement for animals, both marine and land, which also poses a safety threat to them. Balloons may also get tangled in electrical wire or tree branches upon their descent from the sky.
Balloons are not biodegradable and do not naturally decompose, nor are all of the forms recyclable. Mylar balloons, specifically, do not biodegrade but they may be recycled alongside other plastic products. Mylar balloons, also known as foil balloons, may also be easy to use, store, and reuse, as recommended on the Pretty Little Party Shop’s website. Latex balloons for the most part are made from 100 percent latex, which means that they are able to decompose; however, it could take one to three years to completely decompose. To cause the least amount of environmental harm, Pretty Little Party Shop recommends placing latex balloons in a proper waste container so they can decompose in a landfill.
Regulations and bans on balloon releases are being seen in many places due to sea turtles and other marine life having been so severely impacted. A USA Today article in August 2018 questioned whether balloons would be the next big product to be banned. Environmentalists also have been pushing for a ban on the release of balloons for some time, arguing that the world’s wildlife, and specifically marine life, needs to be protected from the actions of humans. Sea turtles, who eat jellyfish, run a high risk of confusing balloons for their food source just as they do with plastic bags. This could lead to the balloons remaining in the turtle’s digestive system and eventually leading to a turtle falling ill or dying.
With the high risk that balloons hold for the environment, you can opt for a variety of products instead of balloons:
- Plant in remembrance, rather than a balloon release
- Tissue paper
Sometimes beautiful things can be more damaging than we realize, but with so many alternatives available and easy to use, balloons could soon be a thing of the past. It is only by the actions of the inhabitants of the world that real change will be made, even if it starts with ceasing the use of a single balloon.
Balloons Online. “Point to Keep in Mind While Disposing of Foil Balloons: Balloons Online.” Balloons.online, Balloons Online, 15 Sept. 2018, https://balloons.online/blog/post/point-to-keep-in-mind-while-disposing-of-foil-balloons#targetText=The good news is that,are both recyclable and reusable.&targetText=However, if you have no,local recycling center that does.
Duncan, Debra. “Balloons.” Environmental Nature Center, https://encenter.org/visit-us/programs/birthday-parties/balloons/.
“Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Balloon Releases and Sky Lanterns.” PADI Blog – Scuba Diving and Freediving Tips, Dive Travel Insights & More, 1 May 2019, https://blog.padi.com/2019/04/24/eco-friendly-alternatives-to-balloon-releases-and-sky-lanterns/.
“Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Balloons.” Clearwater Marine Aquarium, 23 Aug. 2018, https://www.seewinter.com/eco-friendly-alternatives-balloons/.
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