The problem with balloons

The problem with balloons

Brian Yurasits

Don't let go!

You might have seen a balloon release, or even done one yourself. Watching hundreds of balloons rising together into the sky can certainly be impressive, but let’s take a minute to think about what happens when they float off into the distance.

A rising problem

When a balloon rises high enough, the low air pressure in the atmosphere causes it to burst. If it gets high enough and cold enough it can shatter into thousands of tiny pieces and fall to the earth.

There are two main types of balloons and both are really bad for our wildlife. Some are made of latex (made from the sap of a gum tree) and can be labelled as biodegradable. However, even though they do break down, they can still take up to a year. Foil balloons (these are the shiny ones that can be made into shapes) take even longer to break down as they are made from a thin layer of foil woven into nylon.

From every balloon release, hundreds of balloons don’t get very high and float back to earth still inflated.

dead seabird

Photo by Wildlife Gadgetman

These are an even bigger problem for marine life, especially larger animals like turtles who can mistake them for jellyfish (their main food source) or for sea birds that think it’s a tasty snack floating on the surface. These big bits of rubber can get stuck in the animal’s gut and cause it to starve. 
And even all that’s just the balloons! What about the string? This is often a plastic material that doesn’t break down and can tie up, or even strangle animals.

So balloon releases are a bad idea; what about Chinese Lanterns?

There have been loads of stories of fires being started by these lanterns; setting farmers’ crops alight or setting animals on fire! Even putting coastal rescue services in danger who think these floating lights are distress flares from someone struggling out at sea and set out to help someone who isn’t there. It’s not a good idea letting things float away on the wind because you don’t know where it’s going to land.


What can you use instead of balloons?

  • If you’re planning an event in remembrance, instead of letting things go, why not plant a tree or garden? It won’t be over so quickly, it’ll last for years and years as a reminder of that special someone, and it won’t cost the earth.
  • If you’re after a crazy celebration, have you thought about making seed bombs? You and your guests can have a great time throwing them around. You can even make them with wildflower seeds to plant a meadow.
  • If you’re throwing a party, why not make your own bunting? This is a super fun and crafty idea and can bring colour to any event. Why not go super eco-friendly and up-cycle old clothes and materials into flags!
  • If you’re just itching to let things go, why not make super bubbles? Tie one long, and one short bits of string onto two sticks, dunk it in a tub of (eco-friendly) soap mix and watch those brilliant bubbles float high into the sky.