New Study Shows That Balloons Are More Deadly to Some Animals Than Plastic Straws
Banning balloon releases is the latest initiative to keep wildlife safe.
Balloons have always been a symbol of joy and celebration. Odds are, you've been to a concert, football game, or parade where mass amounts of balloons have been released into the sky. While it's ceremonial, environmentalists are labeling this practice as mass littering. Following plastic straw banning efforts and recycling sanctions, a war on balloons is on the horizon, considering the harm that they're causing wildlife.
A March 2019 study from Scientific Reports shows that one in every four seabirds dies from eating plastic—either soft (like balloons) or hard (like plastic straws and even LEGO blocks). While seabirds can sometimes pass hard plastic through their systems, soft plastic will expand in their airways, causing the birds to starve to death. Heartbreakingly, seabirds often mistake balloon fragments—and other soft materials like foam and rope—for small fish or squid. While seabirds are the most affected animals, marine life is also being threatened; another study showed that a large number sea turtles are consuming balloons—particularly pink ones, as their eyes are drawn to the color.
While balloon pollution has long been brought to attention by environmentalists, little-to-no action has been taken until recently. Several Dutch municipalities started making moves back in 2015, banning the release of balloons. Last football season, Clemson University ended its tradition of released 10,000 balloons into the air before every home game. University of Nebraska students are also voting to end the practice of releasing balloons when the Huskers score their first touchdown at each home game.
Balloons Blow, a group educating people on the destructive effects that balloons have on the environment, is working to eliminate all mass balloon releases. They are also warning the public of balloons on the market made of 'biodegradable latex'. The group emphasizes that while the latex in these balloons is considered biodegradable, the chemicals and dyes added to the balloons are not. Latex aside, balloon strings are also threatening animals—tangling their feet, hands, and wings, and even strangling them.
While releasing balloons may be a tradition many are wary to let go of, the negative effects on the environment are tremendous enough to make changes now. You, too, can take steps to eliminate the risk of balloon litter—try DIY party streamers or putting together a colorful flower arrangement at your next soirée instead of hanging balloons.