Balloons – party balloons - used to make me happy – and not just when I was a kid, even as an adult. They combined feelings of celebration and joy; what was not to love? I don’t feel that way anymore – in fact they make me feel heartsick when I see them, especially when used en masse and especially when released. And, as I work closely with the wedding and events industry, I see them used that way a lot.
Our awareness of the issues associated with single use items, especially non-recyclable single use items (e.g., disposable coffee cups), has grown but that awareness has not yet reached the issues associated with balloons. So, at the risk of bursting your metaphorical balloon, I’m going to lay some of those issues out.
- First and foremost, balloons – whether they are latex or nylon - are typically single use (as are the clips and ribbons attached to them). Once they are popped or they deflate, they find their way to the bin, and then, more often than not, to landfill. And that is if they are disposed of properly, which they often aren’t – they are often deliberately released (see point 5) or they are just dumped. (A recent visit to my local park shortly after a children’s birthday party sadly proved that point, where balloons were left tied to poles, where the remnants of burst balloons were strewn around the grass and where the some had made their way into shrubs and bushes and were just left behind. )
- If they are made of a natural substance, like latex, they will eventually degrade– which may give them the label of being biodegradable, meaning they will shred or break up in to smaller pieces over a number of years, but, in the meantime, due to their colour and texture, these small pieces are oh-so-attractive to animals, which then causes significant health issues for those animals. And even if a bird picks up an errant sliver of bright pink balloon and drops it after realising it isn’t so palatable, it disperses the waste even further. The next animal may choke on it.
- Nylon (mylar) balloons – the big, helium filled, shaped metallic balloons, which often have an cherished children’s character or motto emblazoned across them – are particularly bad – they are not biodegradable, they so often float away, (often landing far from home), they aren’t recyclable, they are almost always single use, and to double down on the misery, they deplete our finite (and every decreasing) resources of helium – see point 4.
- Helium – beloved by many a party-goer for its voice distorting properties, and many a child for its reality defying buoyancy – is a noble gas that has a critical uses in medicine and in scientific equipment, including life-saving medical devices like MRI machines. It is also in limited supply. Once it’s gone, it’s pretty much gone (unless we can pop over to another planet to grab some) and it is going. And while it might be sad to imagine a world without floating balloons for our kids, it is far scarier to imagine a world without access to MRI machines.
- Helium filled balloons (regardless of the material) that are released as a part of various rites and celebrates (birthdays, weddings, funerals, etc) will inevitably come back down to earth, and that pretty much means they will find their way into waterways – threatening sea life, especially turtles.
Amazingly, only two states in Australia have banned large scale balloon releases, but even NSW allows up to 19 balloons to be released at once. And no states have a ban of the use of helium for this frivolous purpose.
The most important takeaway in all this is that these decorative items are non-essential and totally avoidable. Unlike some other single use items, it is near impossible to justify the use of party balloons. A simple google search brings up so many environmentally friendly alternatives.
So please, tell your friends. Risk being the party pooper but know that you are celebrating nature by choosing to not celebrate with balloons.
See you next time! - Elise
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Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.