Thousands of balloons or lit lanterns released into the sky: we have all seen it at least one, and it’s a very mesmerizing sight. People release balloons for various occasions: weddings, birthdays, memorials, graduations, charity events…Unfortunately, these balloons and lanterns have to come back down to Earth at some point, and end up creating an environmental disaster.
Balloons usually slowly deflate overtime, and end up getting stuck on trees, bushes, or floating in the middle of the oceans. They also take years to break down, as it is with many other forms of plastic. Latex balloons are falsely-marketed as biodegradable, and can take years to break down. Once in the air, free-flying balloons and lanterns can travel as far as 1,300 miles away from its release site.
Many terrestrial and marine species, such as turtles, dolphins, or birds have been hurt or killed by balloons. If ingested, a balloon will block the digestive tract of the animal, thus letting them starve to death. Other animals may become entangled in the ribbon or the ballon, impeding their movements or causing them to choke.
(Rusty Blackbird found dead due to entanglement in balloon ribbon. Photo: David E. Gurniewicz)
Sea turtles are some of the most at-risk animals, as deflated balloons floating in the sea looks dangerously similar to their favorite food: jellyfishes.
(A sea turtle entangled in ribbons. Photo by FWC)
(A sea turtle that appears to have ingested a balloon. Photo by L. Byrd – Sea Turtle Hospital, Mote Marine Laboratory)
A few US states and cities have anti-balloon laws: Ocean City and Baltimore in Maryland, Louisville in Kentucky, Huntsville in Alabama, and the entire states of California, Connecticut, Florida, New York, Tennessee and Virginia. Plymouth in the UK, and New South Wales and Sunshine Coast-Queensland in Australia also have laws in place.
The thing is, balloon pollution is completely avoidable. Just don’t do it! Is your joy and wonder of letting a balloon go really worth the death and pain of other living organisms? There are plenty of alternatives to releasing plastic into the sky. And if you were to stumble upon a balloon on the beach or while out on a boat, please make sure you pick it up.