Why Balloon Releases are Bad for the Environment

Balloons can be found everywhere, from birthday parties to baby showers, photo props, weddings, visual signage, place markers, and releases at memorial services. But while they seem like a necessary accessory for a celebration, they actually become harmful litter across the planet.

Via Pexels

Balloons are most commonly made of mylar or latex. Mylar is made of metallic polyester, while latex is touted as the "better" option, because it is biodegradable.

But that doesn't make them good for the environment at all. According to Earth 911, testing has shown that latex balloon decomposition can take anywhere from six months to four years — giving them plenty of time to cause harm to nature, wildlife and sea life.

When you release a bunch of balloons, you never know where they are going to come back down to Earth. There's no control over their direction, but it's pretty certain that wherever they land, they will do plenty of damage.

Once they end up in our oceans and waterways, birds, turtles and other animals mistake them for food and eat them, where the balloons get stuck in their throats or stomachs, and can kill them. Back in 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shared some graphic photos of animals killed by balloon litter.

As I was doing a little research for this post, I came across an editorial in the New York Times from 1990 about the dangers of balloon releases and the devastating effects they cause on animals. This has been a publicized problem since I was five years old! The editorial comes from a biologist who served as the director of the Balloon Alert Project at the time.

Ribbons tied to balloons are not biodegradable, and can get tangled up on just about anything, in addition to being dangerous for animals to eat.

Via Pexels

Did you know that balloon releases are against the law in a few states and cities? If you live in California, Connecticut, Florida, Tennessee or Virginia; or the cities of Ocean City, Maryland; Louisville, Kentucky; Huntsville, Alabama; San Francisco, California; Nantucket, Massachusetts; Provincetown, Massachusetts; or Baltimore, Maryland, you better think of something else for your celebration.

There are many other ways you can decorate for a party or celebrate someone's legacy that's kinder on the environment.

Via Los Angeles Eco Village

  • If you're decorating for a party, wedding or celebration, look for more recyclable or reusable options. Paper-based decorations can be recycled, and fabric can be reused.
  • Repurpose some of your tissue paper stash to make tissue poofs, giving a balloon-like effect at parties or showers. Recycle the paper after.

Via All Things Mamma (links to a tutorial!)

  • Natural decorations, such as flowers, greenery or sticks, lend an earthy vibe.
  • Skip the metallic letter balloons for baby showers, pregnancy announcements and birthday parties. Some alternatives include cardboard cutout letters or fabric/paper banners. 
  • If you're planning a memorial, throw flower seeds in the air in a grassy area. The seeds will root where they land, and flowers will spring up. Even if the space gets mowed, the seeds don't cause harm or litter. (In fact, at my wedding for our exit, guests threw dried lavender buds in the air - something natural, biodegradable and not harmful to the venue property.)
  • Blowing bubbles is another less wasteful alternative; just make sure the bottles and wands are not littered.

  • Just this week on Facebook, I saw a post from Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii highlighting a recent litter cleanup that was part of a memorial service for a woman who loved to clean up. How amazing that her friends and family gathered together and cleaned up tons of microplastic at one of her favorite beaches?

  • My favorite alternative for a memorial is by planting trees or flowers. I think a memorial plant is incredibly special, because what better way is there to remember someone's legacy than by planting something beautiful that will grow and flourish for years to come? Place a marker at the base of the tree or flowers with the person's name, or choose a special pot. 

  • For a larger scale memorial, it makes a beautiful statement to plant lots of small trees or flower seedlings in an area, and then you've created a small memorial garden.

Please, please think twice before using balloons.

Their harmful impact on the environment and our wildlife is not worth it! If you are planning a party, event or memorial, whether it's just family, friends, or includes the whole community, I urge you to look for a more sustainable way to mark your memorial.

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