How can balloons be bad for the environment when they  float off skywards in a flurry of colour and romance (if at a wedding) or taking memories with them (if at a funeral), burst and land somewhere with, usually, a piece of seed paper attached which will then germinate and become flowers? For this reason, many people think it is a wonderful idea to release balloons for a bit of a spectacle at a  wedding or event, or in memory of a loved one who has passed away.  However, balloon releases do have a dark side to them which a lot of people are totally unaware of.

What about modern biodegradable ballons?

Modern latex balloons are marketed as biodegradable because they are made from the sap of rubber trees, but this is not entirely correct – agreed, latex does degrade faster than synthetic plastics or shiny foil balloons, but they nevertheless remain intact long enough to cause unnecessary problems and death for wildlife.

According to the Marine Conservation Society, the number of balloons and bits of balloons found on beaches in the UK has tripled during the last decade as balloon releases have become more popular.  The danger for marine wildlife is that these creatures often mistake these balloon remains for food and so they eat them, causing internal blockages in the stomach and intestines, leading to starvation and death.  Marine species found with balloon remains blocking their intestines include turtles, sperm whales, dolphins and sharks.  Turtles in particular suffer as balloon remains can look like jellyfish in water, a major food source for turtles.  Birds are also affected by balloons in a similar way, by also ingesting the rubber or getting entangled with the string and dying a horrible lingering death from starvation or infected wounds from the string.  

It’s not just marine creatures and birds who suffer from the fallout 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.

Habitat Loss

The increase in demand for rubber from tropical trees results in vegetation being cleared to make way for rubber plantations.  This practice deprives countless wild animals of their natural habitat and has a knock-on effect on their survival.  By buying balloons you are helping to support the rubber industry and such dubious practices.

It only takes one balloon to take a life

Every balloon that is released is a potential deathtrap for wildlife.  It is also, basically, littering.  However, it is pleasing to see that things are changing and more people are becoming aware of the dangers of balloon releases. Some local authorities in the UK have even banned them – South Hams, Oxfordshire, Shetland Islands, Canterbury and Cardiff.  Why not lobby your local authority to ban them too?

Alternatives to Balloon Releases

You don’t have to completely forego balloons – just keep them well secured to the ground so they can’t float off.   It will allow people to still enjoy them but for decoration purposes only.  But to get away from balloons completely why not consider the following ideas:

Float flowers down a stream or river or on the sea – this is 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 or any other flower seeds  – a brilliant way to remember the event for a long time! Wildflowers will give something back to you (prettiness) and wildlife (nectar). Wildflower seed bombs and seed balls are also great.  If the event is in memory of a loved one, give friends and families sachets of their favourite flowers to remember them by.

Fundraising – create a fundraising event or donate money to a good cause as a memory of your event or your loved one

Bubbles – great fun and a great way to symbolically release a memory of your event, and they look like balloons!

Virtual balloon race – this is 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 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.

Written by Teresa Sinclair

Wildflower Favours

Photos courtesy of Ballons Blow