For decades, we’ve celebrated many different special occasions by releasing balloons into the air. Weddings, birthdays, graduations—they’ve all been capped off by releasing dozens of balloons at a time into the sky. But, have you ever wondered what happens to all those balloons we let loose? As it turns out, they’re a pretty substantial environmental problem.
Many environmental groups believe that the plastic balloons, while bright and festive, represent some serious threats to wildlife once they return to the ground. The plastic is a pollutant and the strings can wrap around the bodies of animals, making it difficult for them to move.
Research groups in Australia conducted a study that backs up the fears. Specifically, they studied the damage that plastic balloons do on aquatic birds. The birds try to eat the balloons once they return to the ground or surface of bodies of water. As it turns out, the soft plastics do more damage than hard plastics. That’s because the soft plastics create greater obstructions inside the animals’ digestive systems. The studies also revealed that of the animals they studied, nearly 20% had died because they’d ingested part of a balloon. According to the research, even a single, tiny piece of balloon can be fatal to a seabird if ingested. They believe that the solution is as simple as removing the cause and banning the release of balloons into the environment.
In the United States, many states have already taken drastic steps to reduce the amount of balloon pollution. Several states from Florida to California have banned the mass release of balloons entirely. Some communities, like the small Rhode Island town of New Shoreham, has taken their efforts even further by banning the sale of balloons altogether.
One organization, called Balloons Blow, is trying to educate people on the harmful effects balloons pose. They state the obvious harm they can do to animals, but they also provide some suggested alternatives to using balloons for celebrations. They recommend using pinwheels, banners, or seed bombs that, when released, can actually provide food for birds that are nutritious instead of harmful.