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, butthe environmental impacts of balloon releasesmight 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 harmedwildlife. 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 your49th. 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-fundedresearch 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, andthe picture it paints is far from a natural material quickly breaking down into harmless pieces.

The study usedtracking 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 werehalf-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 birdsare 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 manyof 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 thosevibrant balloons floating into the atmosphere. But is it worth it for the impact on wildlife?

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Photo Credit: Rainer

185 comments

Richard A
Richard A5 months 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.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

Must the government control everything?

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Christine Ko
.2 years ago

Agree with the comments here. Balloons are unnecessary evils!

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Jane R.
Jane R2 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.

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H2 years ago

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

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sharyn w.
sharyn w2 years ago

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

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Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey2 years ago

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

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krysta Ice
Past Member 2 years ago

I cringe every time I hear about balloon releases. There so many other ways to commemorate something special. Like plant a tree, make a donation to a worthy cause, etc.

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Jinny L.

Balloons.....makes some people happy but is a potential death sentence for wildlife/marine life....I have retrieved many balloon fragments from the ocean....just cannot imagine marine life or wildlife consuming this deadly stuff....thinking its prey/food. Humans....we need to start thinking about the consequences of our actions. Thanks for sharing.

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