When there’s a celebratory event or gathering, balloons often come to mind. The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) understands that many people mark life’s milestones with balloons.
Releasing balloons can harm the environment and wildlife
Sorry to burst your bubble but releasing balloons can lead to littering and mass releases especially can harm the environment and wildlife.
Balloons can take years to break down. They may end up in waterways or the ocean, where they can be swallowed by marine animals. Turtles have even been found to selectively eat burst balloons because they look like jellyfish, their natural food.
Balloons, along with any ribbons or plastic disks attached, can harm animals by blocking their airways or becoming lodged in their intestines. Ribbons and strings from balloons can also become entangled around birds and other animals, making them unable to move.
Plastic ingestion by seabirds is common. Nearly half of all seabirds will eat plastic debris over their life. Studies have found that of all plastic pollution, balloons are most likely to kill seabirds.
What are the alternatives?
There are lots of environmentally friendlier alternatives to balloons for marking life’s milestones. Other ways to celebrate include:
- Lighting candles. The most important thing here is to make sure there is no fire risk.
- Visual light displays. Always eye-catching, but especially amazing at night. The sky really is the limit.
- Bubbles. Watching them catch the light as they float and bounce in the air can make for some memorable and pretty moments.
- Music. An audio celebration can be just as effective as anything visual and can evoke a whole range of emotions.
- Flowers, or planting a native tree. These will become ongoing celebrations that will grow with every year. Just make sure you have the approval of the landowner.
- Kites or pinwheels. The colourful sight of kites in the sky, twisting and chasing their tails or pinwheels flashing and spinning will stay in people’s memories for a long time.
- Ribbons. Give everyone a long, colourful ribbon and get them twirling and dancing as the spirit moves them. Has the added benefit of providing exercise.
Releasing balloons contributes to littering and waste
If the outdoor use of balloons is unavoidable
- make sure they are strongly secured
- choose biodegradable latex (rubber) balloons and natural strings
- avoid releasing non-biodegradable mylar balloons (foil-coated)
- ensure all balloons and accessories like clips and ribbons end up in the bin
Penalties can also apply
It is against the law to release 20 or more lighter than air balloons into the air together or at about the same time. The penalty can be $1,100. Releasing 100 or more balloons is an aggravated offence – the penalty can be $3,300.
Next time you’re thinking about releasing lighter than air balloons, stop and think about doing something more environmentally friendly instead.