Although balloon releases look beautiful, the effects are devastating to animals and the environment. When balloons land back on earth (sometimes after having traveled thousands of miles and reaching even the most remote places) they litter the land, oceans or rivers and it is basically the same as littering any other kind of trash. Balloons can be mistaken for food and eaten by animals, such as sea turtles, dolphins, whales, fish and birds, and ribbons and strings can lead to entanglement, causing death (all of these animals have been found with balloons in their stomachs). When a piece of balloon is mistaken for food and ingested, it can get lodged in the digestive tract, preventing the animal from eating and causing a slow and painful death by starvation. Thankfully, more and more places are banning the release of balloons.
There are two types of balloons in general use: latex and mylar. Even balloons marketed as biodegradable or eco-friendly (the latex ones) can still take anywhere from 6 months to 4 years to disintegrate, so they’re not any better for the environment than standard balloons. Many claim that “biodegradable” latex balloons take the same amount of time to decompose as an oak leaf does. This is very misleading as oak leaves are very durable and can take four years to decompose. That means the balloons have plenty of time to injure or kill. “Latex balloons float for just 10 hours, but can take a year or more to degrade, long enough to repeatedly wrap around or be ingested by turtles, sea birds and marine mammals. Scientists who work with stranded whales, dolphins, seals and sea turtles have found balloons, parts of balloons and balloon string in the stomachs of many of these dead animals,” according to Patricia Sullivan, Honolulu Environmental Policy Examiner.
Mylar balloons are made with mylar nylon, a material developed for use with the US space program. These balloons are often coated with a metallic finish and are available in different shapes and designs. Mylar balloons, made from metalicized polyester (a material that is dirty in both production and disposal) are even less friendly to the environment than latex ones.
Instead of buying balloons for your next party or celebration, please consider these following options that are just as fun and enjoyable (or maybe even more, since they are environmentally friendly) as balloons:
Bubbles. Blow some bubbles. Kids love them and they are great in pictures.
Paper and/or reusable decorations. If you want to decorate a party, try to do it with (paper) flags, pom poms, lanterns, pin wheels and banners or use reusable garlands. There are plenty of beautiful ones made of felt, paper, cotton etc.
Plant a tree or flowers. If you want to commemorate someone or create new memories, planting native trees and wildflowers is a beautiful idea. It will last for years to come and at the same time you give something back to nature. But be aware: if you choose to plant trees or flowers somewhere other than your own yard, make sure you have prior permission if it’s a public park or nature area and make sure you don’t plant any potentially invasive species of plants.
Luminaries. Luminaries are a beautiful way to honor and memorialize loved ones. Instead of writing messages on balloons and releasing them, you can write messages on recycled paper bags or reusable glass jars with candles placed inside to create a lighted path, or spell out a word or name. Each person can bring their bag or jar home afterward as a personal keepsake to remember the event.
Floating flowers or petals. Another beautiful way to honor and memorialize loved ones. You will be able to be in nature and feel the energy of your loved one and all the life that surrounds you (be sure to use native flowers and not let go an excessive amount).
As an added note: sky lanterns (Chinese paper lanterns) are not an environmentally-friendly alternative. They have started huge fires, caused serious burns, and have killed animals.
Need some inspiration for your next balloon-free party? Check out this beautiful page at Simple and Splendid and you will forget you ever had balloons at parties in the first place!