why is releasing balloons bad for the environment

Why is Releasing Balloons Bad for the Environment?

Last Updated on August 21, 2023 by Annie Baldwin

Releasing balloons seems harmless, but this popular tradition has deadly consequences for birds, sea turtles, and other wildlife.

The growing movement to ban balloon releases aims to protect both animals and the environment.

Learn why we must end the practice of intentionally releasing balloons into the sky.

Why is Releasing Balloons Bad for the Environment?

Why is Releasing Balloons Bad for the Environment?

Releasing balloons is extremely harmful to the environment due to the dangers balloons and their attachments pose to wildlife through ingestion and entanglement.

Balloon litter also contributes to plastic pollution.

Key Points

  • Latex balloons are the deadliest form of marine debris for seabirds.
  • Balloons can travel hundreds of miles before falling back to earth as litter.
  • Mylar foil balloons are not biodegradable and persist in ecosystems.

How Do Balloons Harm Wildlife and Marine Life?

Balloons, particularly latex balloons, pose a significant threat to marine life and the environment.

When mistaken for food and ingested, balloons can lead to loss of nutrition, internal injury, and even death for animals.

Partially inflated balloons can block animals’ gastrointestinal tract, causing them to starve to death slowly and painfully.

Latex balloons are the deadliest form of marine debris for seabirds, being 32 times more likely to kill than hard plastics when ingested.

Additionally, balloons can travel long distances and pollute even the most remote and pristine places.

While latex balloons are biodegradable and photodegradable, they can still take several months to years to decompose.

On the other hand, Mylar balloons are not biodegradable at all.

The release of balloons into the atmosphere is a hazardous act that poses risks to the environment.

Foil balloons, in particular, are made from a film that is harmful to the environment.

Furthermore, balloons and their ribbons persist in the environment for a long time, causing harm to birds, fish, and turtles who mistake them for food or get entangled in the debris.

Why Are Balloon Releases Still Legal in Most Places?

Currently, there are no federal laws in the United States banning the release of balloons, and only a handful of states have enacted balloon-release legislation.

Most states allow intentional balloon releases with no oversight or consequence.

The lack of legislation banning balloon releases may come down to public perception and lobbying efforts.

Many view balloon releases as harmless symbolic gestures and do not connect these events to environmental harm.

The balloon industry has also lobbied to prevent restrictions that would impact their profits.

However, a growing public awareness about the dangers of balloon litter is putting pressure on lawmakers to take action.

Several U.S. states now have laws limiting or banning balloon releases, including California, Connecticut, Florida, Tennessee, and Virginia.

But in most places, these harmful releases continue unabated, putting wildlife at risk.

How Do Balloons Degrade the Environment?

When released into the environment, balloons degrade into microplastics over time.

These tiny plastic particles make their way into waterways and oceans, contributing to the microplastic pollution crisis.

Additionally, helium-filled latex balloons can travel hundreds of miles before returning to Earth as litter.

The distance these balloons travel spreads the environmental impact far beyond the release site.

Mylar or foil balloons are especially problematic as they do not biodegrade quickly.

These metallic balloons can remain intact in the environment for years.

When they eventually return to earth, foil balloons are a danger to wildlife and livestock that may eat them.

Overall, any type of balloon release puts unnecessary plastic into ecosystems across the globe.

And the ribbons, strings, clips, and attachments used on balloons further amplify their environmental footprint.

What are the Dangers of Inhaling Helium?

The helium used to fill balloons poses a direct danger to human health.

When inhaled, helium displaces oxygen in the lungs, causing dizziness, voice changes, unconsciousness, and even death from asphyxiation.

The FDA specifically warns against the inhalation of helium from balloons due to these risks.

Helium is a non-renewable resource that is in increasingly short supply globally.

Wasting helium on balloons will make it scarcer and more expensive for critical medical and scientific applications that rely on this inert gas.

What are Safer Alternatives to Balloon Releases?

There are many options for commemorating events or honoring lost loved ones that do not involve releasing balloons that will end up as litter.

Here are some of the popular alternatives:

  • Planting native trees or flowers in remembrance
  • Releasing butterflies or doves
  • Flying kites together
  • Lighting candles
  • Hosting remembrance walks or races
  • Creating memorial websites, videos, or artworks
  • Donating to related charities or research
  • Having moments of silence
  • Sending up sky lanterns made with natural materials
  • Blowing soap bubbles en masse outside

How Can You Help End Harmful Balloon Releases?

The most impactful way to spark change is to contact your state and local representatives to voice support for legislation banning intentional balloon releases.

You can also pledge to never release helium balloons at your events and encourage others to avoid balloon releases.

Supporting efforts by environmental organizations that are working to educate the public and advocate for policy changes around balloon releases is another great way to help.

And you can safely dispose of balloons after events rather than releasing them into the air.

By taking action, we can prevent needless animal deaths, reduce plastic pollution, and protect fragile ecosystems across the planet from the harm of balloon releases.

Small individual choices and voices collectively make a major difference in creating lasting change.

Key Takeaways:

  • Releasing balloons causes direct harm to wildlife and contributes to plastic pollution
  • Balloons can travel hundreds of miles and degrade into microplastics
  • Intentional balloon releases are still legal in most U.S. states
  • There are many better alternatives for commemorating events
  • You can help by pressuring lawmakers and pledging not to release balloons

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take for a balloon to biodegrade?

Latex balloons can take anywhere from a few months up to 4 years to fully biodegrade. Mylar foil balloons may never fully break down.

What types of animals are most impacted by balloons?

Birds and sea turtles are especially at risk from ingesting balloons and getting entangled in attached ribbons. Over 130 species are known to have been negatively affected by balloon litter.

Are there any alternatives to balloon releases?

Yes, there are many creative ways to commemorate events without balloon releases, like planting flowers, flying kites, lighting candles, or hosting charity walks.

How can you safely dispose of balloons?

Deflate balloons and cut ribbons before placing them in a trash bin. Foil balloons should be punctured before disposal to prevent them from floating away.

GreenChiCafe is passionate about the environment and our natural world. Check out our website for more content on important environmental topics.

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