Swift found tangled in balloon release stringWhy are balloon releases bad for the environment? How can something that seems innocent and fun be so bad for wildlife and nature? Many businesses use balloon releases as promotional events but there is a negative environmental impact of such practice.

Aren’t Modern Balloons Biodegradable?

To an extent, they are and modern latex balloons are sold as biodegradable because they are made from rubber tree sap.  But this is a little bit misleading – latex does degrade faster than synthetic plastics or foil balloons, but they nevertheless remain intact long enough for a number of negative consequences to occur.  They still take months or years to biodegrade down.

According to the Marine Conservation Society, the amount of balloon debris found on beaches in the UK has tripled in the last 10 years. Marine animals can often mistake these balloon remains for food, thus causing internal blockages in their stomach and intestines, with devastating results leading in most cases to starvation and death.  Sperm whales, dolphins, turtles and sharks have all been found with balloon remains in their stomachs.   Turtles in particular are affected as balloon remains can look like jellyfish in water, which are their major food source.  Birds are also affected by balloons by ingesting the rubber or getting entangled with the string and dying a nasty lingering death from starvation or infected wounds from the string.

It’s not just marine creatures and birds who suffer from balloon releases, land animals do too:

The lamb in the photo below was strangled by balloon string wrapped around its neck and foot, prompting M&S (who did the balloon release) to ban balloon advertising in 2008.

Lamb entangled with balloon from balloon release

Habitat Loss is also a consequence of the balloon industry

The increase in demand for rubber from tropical trees has led to vegetation being cleared to make way for rubber plantations.  This practice deprives many animals of their natural habitat and has a knock-on effect on their survival.  By buying balloons you are helping to support this devastation.

It only takes one balloon to take a life

Each balloon is a potential deathtrap for wildlife.  It is also, quite literally, littering.  But as more people are becoming aware of the environmental hazards of balloon releases, more is being done to stop them.  Some local authorities in the UK have even banned them – South Hams, Oxfordshire, Shetland Islands and Cardiff.  Canterbury City Council has also banned balloon releases on council-owned land. Why not lobby your local authority to ban them too?


Environmentally-friendly Alternatives to Balloon Releases

This isn’t to say that there should be a complete balloon embargo (there’s always fun to be had with impromptu bursting), so an alternative option is to simply fix balloons securely as a decoration. As alternatives to balloons, why not consider the following ideas:

Float flowers down a stream or on the sea – a good symbolic way of letting go to remember a loved one, or even to celebrate a beach wedding or event

Give away wildflower seeds – a brilliant way to remember the event for a long time! Wildflowers will give something back to you (prettiness) and wildlife (nectar).

Fundraising – create a fundraising event or donate money as a memory of your event

Bubbles – great fun and a great way to symbolically release a memory of your event

Virtual balloon race – great fun! Check them out online! As virtualballoonrace.com say – “everything is real except the balloon. Real launch locations, real weather data and real maps. Our complex mathematical algorithms mean that the virtual balloon mimics exactly what a real latex balloon would do without potentially killing a bird or animal in the process”.

Remember – it really only takes one balloon to take a life

For further info visit Balloons Blow and Marine Conservation Trust‘s Don’t Let Go campaign.

Please share this information widely to help our wildlife.