If you have subscribed to Happy Mail, you would know that my new year’s resolution is to increase my environmental awareness and continue pursuing an environmentally-conscious lifestyle. As the year progresses I’ll be sharing my new-found knowledge with you.
This week I’m starting with the eco basics. Balloon basics, in fact. After getting a lot of press in the media, it was time for me to dive deep and determine exactly why balloons are so detrimental to the environment
Now I don’t mean to be a party pooper, but after my research, I think it’s time we ditch our unhealthy obsession with party balloons. I love a good party, but these plastic scoundrels just have to be uninvited.
Balloons are no friend of the environment: they are made from non-biodegradable plastic that breaks up into smaller plastic pieces. So superficially, over time old balloons may appear to be “breaking down”, but what is really happening is that the plastic is being broken up from macro to micro plastics, causing havoc on both a micro and macro level in the environment.
Helium balloons cause their own special type of enviro-hell. When released into the sky they reach high altitudes, only to pop and return down to the earth. The end result is a jellyfish-looking balloon carcass (see below), which is just too tempting for a lot of sea creatures such as birds, fish, turtles, dolphins, dugongs, and even whales, to ingest. As the pH of most animals’ stomachs is not strong enough to break down balloon plastic, the balloons block the animals’ intestines and eventually the animal starves to death.
Photo credit: Balloons Blow
Now don’t be fooled into thinking that if you live far from the sea you are exempted! Balloons can travel hundreds of kilometres. Regardless, even land animals often mistake the deflated balloons and plastic balloon pieces as food and ingest it – resulting in the same fate as the sea creatures.
Even if we don’t release balloons into the sky and just wish to have a spot of colour around the house for a celebration, we need to be mindful of the balloon’s end of life disposal.
Where does it go when we throw it away?
“Away” is somewhere, and this is usually landfill, where it joins the never-ending pile of non biodegradable plastics.
Over the last few years, there have been some significant steps taken in my country from various government bodies to ban the releasing of balloons. To be honest, I was surprised that this was even on their agenda. Not because I don’t agree with the environmental cause, but because usually government is a little slow to the (environmental) party when it comes to protecting the natural world. While there is no national law specifically prohibiting the release of balloons in the environment (though there are definitely littering laws!), some local and state bodies have already made significant steps in the right direction.
At the moment, New South Wales has banned the intentional release of 20 balloons or more at any given time. With an aim of becoming the Australia’s most sustainable region, the Sunshine Coast local council has also implemented their own council laws, prohibiting the release of all helium balloons
Even in my home town of Perth, one local government (Town of Cottesloe) has also taken matters into their own hands and also banned to release of helium balloons on council property (such as beaches and parks) in a bid to reduce environmental damage.
Even these natural latex balloons that claim to be “safe for the environment” don’t come without risk. Many of these balloons still contain a lot of harmful chemicals and still require many years to biodegrade. That’s a lot of time for the discarded jellyfish-looking balloon to exist in the environment! It goes without saying that in those years, the balloon can cause damage.
If you were thinking of releasing balloons at your next event, but are now are an informed eco warrior, we have a list of alternatives for you! A better alternative to releasing tens or even hundreds of balloons would be to plant a tree, blowing bubbles, floating flowers in a stream, flying kites or even releasing virtual balloons.
Even if you want to throw a party and have a spot of colour, there are so many other ways to decorate without the use of balloons. It just requires a little creativity! You can use tissue paper pom poms, brightly coloured bunting or paper lanterns.
While researching this topic I started questioning myself a lot about the use of balloons, the role that they play in our festivities As balloons are only used for a few hours (or a few days if the party is really pumping!), is our desire for some colour around the house worth the environmental cost?
While the government bodies mentioned above are making steps in the right direction, I don’t believe we can simply rely on the other states and local government bodies to follow suit. I think it is far more important to create societal change through information and education. By doing so, the good citizens of the world are more inclined to consciously do the right (environmental) thing, rather than mindlessly adhering to the legal obligations. Further to this, once we become mindful about one environmental cause, it’s likely that we will become curious about our other habits and their impact on the environment.
Individuals, companies and organisations can act to make personal changes and implement internal company policies. One great example of a company making a stand is a large Queensland shopping centre chain, which took a strong stance in banning the sale of helium balloons in all 20 of their shopping centres. The ban came after the discovery of a shopping centre branded balloon found within a dead grey-headed Albatross’ stomach.
I guess it comes down to the saying; “when we know better, we do better.”
I like to think that perhaps the reason why the use of balloon is so mainstream is because the message about the damage caused by balloons isn’t as widespread and well-known as originally thought. You can help spread the message by clicking the share button below and sharing this article amongst your friends. Who knows, by sharing this blog you may just save a sea creature.
If you would like to get involved with the removal and prevention of marine debris, you should definitely check out the good work of Tangaroa Blue. They are an Australian not-for-profit organisation making waves in cleaning up our coastlines, but also work with industries and government bodies to create large scale environmental change.
Another great resource is Balloons Blow which contains loads of information on how balloons impact the environment and how you can help. They also have other eco blogs to help you with your eco-friendly lifestyle journey.
And now that we know better, let’s celebrate with a party (sans balloons).