Mara here. I know that the effort and meaning behind balloon release mean well, but they are terrible for our environment and wildlife. I can’t help but view them as littering, and see them as the same as a group of people gathering to throw litter on the ground. Brand Sponsorship and Partnerships Team Leader Annie tells us about the environmental impact of balloon releases as well as some great ideas on alternatives.

Now I’m not a big environmentalist, meaning I don’t recycle everything or try to buy everything with reduced packaging or made with recycled products but a few things get caught in my craw. Tossing your trash into the lake/river while boating, dropping it along the trail as you hike, and balloon releases are a few of them. Balloon releases happen for lots of reasons, to commemorate a lost loved one, in celebration, balloon races and flight contests.

While I empathize with those wanting to commemorate a loved one, when I see balloons set free into the sky, all I can think of is the environmental impacts those balloons will have when they descend. Released balloons have caused power outages, fire damage, car crashes, death of humans, wildlife and marine life. That’s does not include the countless pounds of litter that fall back to earth.

Many jurisdictions have placed restrictions on balloon releases and people have found alternatives they deem safer or more environmentally friendly such as Chinese sky lanterns or biodegradable balloons. Truth behind these “alternatives” is that sky lanterns accomplish just as much of an impact on the environment with the exception of actually introducing live fire into the equation, (talk about bright ideas), for these reasons some jurisdictions have equated sky lanterns to fireworks and placed the same restrictions on them. Biodegradable balloons seem like a great idea as well but still take several months to break down, leaving them in our forest and waterways as unsightly litter or harming wildlife/marine life till the balloons do finally biodegrade.

Photo courtesy the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Some even suggest simply not tying ribbons or strings onto balloons that are to be released to keep them from becoming entangled in power lines and making it harder for wildlife to do the same. While this does solve one aspect of the issues with balloon releases it does not solve the latex that will be left behind when the balloon busts. Some have contended that the latex biodegrades as fast as an Oak leaf but the point is we’ve never found wildlife or marine life choked to death by an Oak leaf and if there has been, it is nature.

Balloon releases can also be a waste of precious helium. Helium has been in short supply for a number of years and it’s predicted to continue. Helium is used in all sorts of things that affect our everyday life from welding to scuba diving to barcode scanners and MRIs.

Photo courtesy the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

So how can you add a special touch to your celebration or commemoration without having a negative impact on the environment? Here are some safe alternatives:

• Plant in remembrance: Plant native trees or flowers that can continue to grow and be admired as you remember your special day or loved one. These provide oxygen, shade, shelter, and even a food source for wildlife.

• Use kites: Colorful kites can be flown and reeled back in when the celebration is over Garden Spinners/Pinwheels: Besides a great alternative to balloons, it’s also a great alternative for plants if the area isn’t conducive for growth or you lack a green thumb.
• Floating Flowers/Petals: Place floating flowers or flower petals in a stream or waterway, just be sure to use native species and no excessive amounts. Some flowers can harm marine life so simple is best.

• Blowing Bubbles/Giant Bubbles: Blow kisses at your lost loved one, think of a precious memory or wishes of luck for a happy couple at a wedding, birthday wishes, etc and exhale then watch your memories and kisses float on the air.

• Mass gathering: Have people come together to create a shape, i.e. a heart, a word, a ribbon shape. If a drone is available you can take a sky shot from above to remember the occasion. Just be sure to check your local laws regarding drone usage.

Balloons are not evil and not the only threat to our environment, wildlife and marine life, but by finding alternatives to releasing balloons we are reducing the human impact on the environment.

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