Americans love balloons. Every year Americans spend millions of dollars buying balloons to celebrate the important milestones in our lives. Although traditionally accepted as a way of celebrating achievements, showing gratitude and signifying letting go, there is an overlooked unpleasant side to the business of balloons that is yielding very dangerous consequences for our planet.
Let’s explore some of the challenges we face with continued use of balloons and hopefully with this awareness we can work together to find suitable alternatives that we can enjoy while keeping our environment safe and clean.
The Environmental Effects of Balloons
All balloons released into the air eventually falls back to the surface and creates litter in our environment. Some of these balloons will fall on our beaches, some in our forests and some will fall into our oceans, lakes, and streams. This poses a serious a problem to the animals and marine life once they encounter these balloons. Vulnerable animals, such as the sea turtle mistake these deflated balloons for jellies, which is its main source of food. When an animal ingests a balloon, the balloon blocks the digestive tract blocking it from getting the nutrients it needs and can ultimately result in death.Many other animals such as birds, longhorn sheep, cows, dogs, and dolphins have been discovered to have been injured and/or killed by balloon pollution in our environment.
The balloon industry has tried to convince us that they offer biodegradable balloon options but research has discovered that once a biodegradable balloon has chemicals from dyes and preservatives added to it, the biodegradability of the balloon is diminished which means it can take many years for a balloon to completely break down. The result of this can be found on our beaches. Balloon pollution on our beaches has tripled in the last 10 years according to ballonsblow.org.
Waste not. Want not. Why Helium is Important.
Helium is an important resource that is the power behind many of our most important technological tools in the science and medical industries. Helium is a vital component is the MRI machines as it is used to cool the superconductor magnets. It is also used in the development of quantum computers. Yet helium is light gas that is difficult to find and is not in huge abundance here on Earth. It is distilled during natural gas production and because it is a natural resource, cannot be duplicated. According to professor Chris Ballentine, the Earths supply of helium is set to run in the next 15-20 years.
Despite heliums scarcity and use in important life-saving technologies, helium is most commercially used by event retailers and florists to fill balloons. The minimal supplies of helium have tripled its price in the last five years but the demand for the balloons has not diminished.
It is apparent that such a valuable resource should not be used frivolously filling balloons if we can find alternatives.
Let’s Find Another Way
Despite the effects on our environment and the immediate and long-range results of continuing to use and release balloons, the balloon industry is lobbying hard to have balloons not be classified as litter. A few states have already enacted laws to ban or limited the sales of balloons, but we have a responsibility as citizens to take it upon ourselves to spread the awareness and use our collective creativity to find healthy and sustainable alternatives that benefit our communities and our planet.
Do you have any ideas of alternatives we can use in place of balloons? Come join us on Facebook and discuss ways we can eliminate the wasteful practice of balloons on Martha’s Vineyard.