Balloons blow, Don’t Let them go Colchester.

Why Balloons are harmful to the environment

So what’s the problem?

Balloons are a popular item for all sorts of occasions celebrating both life and death and many events in between. And while they supplement these important and significant events, it’s important to know that they are litter and pose a serious risk to wildlife, pets and livestock. There are many great alternatives which can be just as beautiful and act as a fitting celebration and memorial.

Unfortunately, balloons and balloon fragments, even biodegradable ones, can pose a serious risk to wildlife, particularly marine animals. For further information about these risks you may want to read this RSPCA document.

Many marine animals including dolphins, whales, sharks, seabirds and turtles have all been killed by balloons and their strings through entanglement or ingestion. They photo-degrade into smaller pieces that attract toxins and build up in the food chain upon which we humans also depend. This is particularly concerning since scientists have recently discovered microplastics found in human blood for first time:

The release of balloons into the atmosphere with no control over their landing location and means of disposal is a form of littering and has an impact on everyone that lives and takes pride in their community. It also costs a lot of money (our tax money) that the council has to spend on collecting litter, money which could be much better spent.

Many councils across the UK have banned balloon releases because of the growing evidence of damage to the environment. Is your council on the list?

Colchester Borough Council banned the release of balloons in 2008 on its managed land which include; Sports and leisure facilities, parks and gardens, allotments, playing fields, beach facilities, public open spaces, amenity areas and country parks.

While there is currently no ban for balloon releases on private land, the choice to opt for less harmful alternatives remains the ethical choice of the individual or organisation. As an environment charity that supports environmental and human health, we are strongly urging businesses, schools, nurseries, charities, wedding venues, and any individuals considering the release of balloons (even biodegradable alternatives) to consider their impacts on others and the environment and choose a kinder option such as virtual balloon releases or planting a tree.

Why balloons are harmful to the environment.
Figure 1. ‘Balloons Blow‘ is a non-profit organisation that educates about the dangers of balloons.

“Let’s party ’til the helium’s gone.”

Another important issue relating to balloons is the use of helium to fill them. Helium is a very precious and finite resource and depended on in the medical industry, for instance for the use of MRI scanning which is essential for many medical diagnosis. Helium is also critical in the manufacture of modern electronics including computers and mobile phones. Given these and other critical uses, we are also strongly urging people to avoid using helium for non-essential uses such as filling balloons.  
Is it right to waste helium on party balloons? 

So what are the alternatives?

  • Plant a flower
  • Plant a tree
  • Blowing bubbles / giant bubbles
  • Coloured lights
  • Light a candle
  • Write in chalk
  • Sponsor a bench
  • Wildflower seed bombs
  • Make a stepping stone
  • Flags, banners, streamers and dancing inflatables
  • Ribbon dancers
  • Kites & garden spinners
  • Bunting
  • Tissue Paper Pompoms
  • Drumming
  • Floating flowers down a stream / river
Alternative ways to celebrate without using balloons
Figure 2. Environmentally friendly alternatives as suggested by ‘Balloons Blow

Will you take our ‘no balloon’ pledge?

I pledge to celebrate with balloons responsibly and to avoid their use where possible. I promise to lead by example, using the points listed below as my guide and to spread the message to friends, family, and co-workers.

I pledge to:

  1. Never intentionally release balloons.
  2. Avoid helium filled balloons
  3. Always tie balloons to a weight.
  4. Never tie multiple helium-filled foil balloons together.
  5. Always dispose of balloons properly.
  6. Always supervise children under the age of 3 when they are near balloons.

More information:

Marine Conservation Society – Don’t Let Go

Alternatives to balloon releases and sky lanterns

*Please note that the views are that of the author, not necessarily that of en-form.

Author Bio

Grace Darke is the Volunteer Co-ordinator for Eco Colchester and a project manager of en-form.

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