Why You Should Care about Balloon Releases

A proposed ban on balloon releases was recently struck down in Virginia. This might seem like no big deal, but the environmental impacts of balloon releases might surprise you.

I remember doing an annual balloon release when I was a kid in south Florida. My elementary school did one every year as part of field day. We all got helium balloons in our school colors and gathered on the basketball court. There was a countdown, and then we all let go of our balloons at once.

Even back in the 80s there was some pushback about this tradition. The balloons often landed in the Everglades, where they harmed wildlife. Honestly, I was surprised to learn that balloon releases are as common today as they were back then.

In Virginia, the balloon release bill would have expanded existing legislation surrounding this practice. Currently in Virginia, you are fined $5 per balloon released after your 49th. The bill would have banned all balloon releases of any size.

Why You Should Care about Balloon Releases

These balloons were floating about 40 miles offshore; spotted by the photographer during a boat trip off of Bodega Bay.

The Impact of Balloon Releases

When you’re talking about balloon releases, there tend to be two sorts of balloons at play: shiny mylar balloons and latex ones.

Mylar was developed by the U.S. space program, and it does not biodegrade. Since it’s shiny, marine animals often mistake it for food, and when they eat it, it can be fatal. It’s basically plastic with a metallic coating. Releasing a mylar balloon is basically like tossing a plastic grocery bag right into the ocean.

Industry-funded research suggests that latex balloons biodegrade, but that’s not really an accurate depiction of what happens. A Clemson University paper looked at the environmental impact of latex balloon releases, and the picture it paints is far from a natural material quickly breaking down into harmless pieces.

The study used tracking and video methods to see what happened when balloons were released during sporting events, and the researchers discovered that only 12 percent of balloons fell to Earth in the tiny pieces that the balloon industry talks about. In fact, 81 percent of the balloons that researchers recovered were half-intact.

The other interesting aspect of balloon releases this study discovered is that balloons aren’t the only piece of litter at play here. The strings, often not made from biodegradable materials, can do a lot of damage when animals ingest them.

They also found that sea turtles and shore birds are both harmed when they ingest latex. You can read more about what happens to shore birds and sea turtles who eat latex balloons here.

Several states currently ban or restrict balloon releases, though many of the laws focus on mylar balloons.

Balloon releases are fun. I remember really enjoying them as a kid. It’s kind of magical to see all of those vibrant balloons floating into the atmosphere. But is it worth it for the impact on wildlife?

Related
County in Oregon Soon to be GMO-Free
Sea World Attendance Continues to Plunge
How to Deal With the End-of Summer Blues

Photo Credit: Rainer

187 comments

Michael Friedmann
Michael Friedmann3 months ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

SEND
Michael F
Michael Friedmann4 months ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

SEND
Richard A
Richard A1 years ago

No, the government mustn't control everything, but there seems to be a dearth of common sense relating to "feel good" activities, ranging from balloon releases to all of the feel good laws that are passed in someone's name.

SEND
Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

SEND
Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago

Must the government control everything?

SEND
Christine Ko
.3 years ago

Agree with the comments here. Balloons are unnecessary evils!

SEND
Jane R.
Jane R3 years ago

All balloon releases should be banned. I've never thought about the harm it can cause to animals. Now that I know I say ban them all.

SEND
Jennifer H.
Jennifer H3 years ago

Agreed. Dump the balloons. I have always hated the balloon releases.

SEND
sharyn w.
sharyn w3 years ago

Ban them all. Someone will come up with a safer alternative for all life and the planet.

SEND
Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey3 years ago

Sad to realise how much harm a bit of fun can do. It's time to ban them though.

SEND