Surveys of beach litter show that the amount of balloons and balloon pieces found on beaches has tripled in the past 10 years, and those balloons can take years to break down, according to the World Animal Foundation of Vermilion, Ohio. Over 18,000 balloons, pieces of balloons, and balloon strings were found along Great Lakes shorelines in one survey by the Alliance for the Great Lakes. Cleanup teams find 4,400 to 7,200 pieces of balloon debris on Great Lakes beaches each year, with higher numbers found when more volunteers participate.
If you are planning a balloon release for a special occasion, the World Animal Foundation urges you to consider that the moment or two of delight the balloons provide can have deadly consequences for the environment. When you release balloons you are littering and your litter creates numerous threats to wildlife. Before you plan a balloon release ask yourself, “What happens to the balloons? Where do they go?”
While some balloons burst, others gradually deflate and fall back to earth where they can have cruel consequences for wildlife. Marine species, as well as terrestrial animals, have all been hurt or killed by balloons. The animal, unless rescued, will die from the balloon blocking their digestive tract. Unable to take in any nutrients, the animal slowly starves to death. Wildlife of all kinds can become entangled in a deflated balloon and/or its ribbon, leaving the animal unable to move or eat.
The balloon industry has set “standards” for themselves claiming that releasing balloons that are hand-tied, made of “biodegradable” latex, and without ribbons are environmentally friendly. Natural latex may be biodegradable, but after adding chemicals, plasticizers and artificial dyes it is no longer “natural”. It may degrade after several years, but it can do a lot of harm during those years. The ribbons or strings that are tied to the balloons also last years and can entangle any animal that comes in contact with them.
Many defenders of balloon releases are in the balloon business. They profit from the sale of balloons and many encourage people to disregard everything scientists, wildlife rehabilitators and conservationists are reporting about the impact balloons have on animals and the environment. Mass balloon releases bring in big profits. Conservationists are finding many more of the so-called “biodegradable” latex balloons, because the balloon industry has promoted this “alternative” with false information. But it should fall on the consumer to act responsibly and not risk wildlife just to mark an occasion.
Some states and countries have now enacted laws regarding the release of balloons. Five states now limit or ban intentional balloon releases. More than eight other states are considering restrictions.
The Balloon Council, and other balloon industry entities, spend millions of dollars lobbying to keep balloon releases legal. This multi-billion dollar industry, by promoting their product, actually encourages consumers to litter. Releasing balloons should be included in already existing litter laws. The practice is, by all definitions, littering.
The World Animal Foundation suggests environmentally and animal friendly alternatives to balloon releases. If the occasion calls for a remembrance, why not plant a memory garden or just one tree? Pinwheels and streamers can offer a lovely display. Be certain that none are discarded at the site or beyond, as the purpose of not littering will be defeated.
Other alternatives to a balloon release are:
Float flowers or flower petals
Fly a kite.