Connecting you with nature
There’s a place in Maryland where I sometimes go to photograph. It’s a stunning and large public garden, meticulously cared for, visited, and appreciated by many. Along with its beauty, I regularly see balloons and string caught up in the trees around this picture-perfect place. I was even surprised one day last spring when I witnessed a small group releasing several plain, white, Mylar balloons at the garden. The tears in their eyes told me they may have been memorializing a loved one. Death and loss are sad, but my heart also ached when I thought about the litter they released and the potential harm to birds and other animals their actions created.
Why Are We Still Littering with Balloons?
Every once in a while, a single balloon accidentally gets loose. A child gets distracted, loses their grip, or a single balloon somehow escapes from a party. That’s a different issue than the intentional balloon releases that have been happening for years. These intentional releases are often done as part of fundraisers, sporting events, weddings, graduations, other ceremonies, birthdays and to recognize the death of a loved one. Some people see balloon releases as having religious or spiritual significance. And there are businesses that actively promote, and sell, balloon releases (http://www.celebratewithballoons.com/FuneralBalloons.html). One business refers to balloon releases as a “growing trend”, stating, “Releases are normally done at the end of the service to symbolize letting go of the loved one and letting the grieving process begin. …As the balloons are slowly drifting upward it leaves all involved with a peace and a memory that will last a lifetime.” Those can be powerful words and promises when people are emotionally vulnerable and grieving.
Putting the Brakes on Balloon Releases: Know the Facts and Laws
Balloon releases have started to lose their popularity and acceptance. There are well-documented harms caused by balloon debris, including death and serious injuries to wildlife as well as the unnecessary litter they produce. There have been debates about the extent of damage from balloons, and what kinds of balloons are most harmful; for example – helium vs. latex vs. Mylar; and balloons with and without strings. Some businesses have caught on to the declining acceptance of balloon releases and now sell, manufacture or promote balloons labeled as compostable or biodegradable. The valid question about those products is how long and under what environmental conditions do they degrade? For example, do they degrade when they land in open bodies of water, or do they float forever, and never degrade, risking injury or death to sea life? The same question needs to be asked when balloons labeled biodegradable land, on land, – how long does it take for them to degrade?
Some of the injuries and other damage that’s occurred because of balloon releases is staggering.
Change has happened as more of us are educated about the long-lasting effects of balloons. Today, there are several non-profits and other organizations that actively work to educate on the risks from balloon releases and the alternatives available. In addition, the reality that’s emerged from the debates and analysis on the risks of balloon releases has led to a number of state-wide, or locality-based balloon release bans, with legislation pending in others. The U.S. states with balloon release bans include, California, Connecticut, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia (see, https://balloonsblow.org/balloon-laws/). The Maryland state legislature has passed balloon ban legislation which is currently waiting for the Governor’s signature. There are also several localities (towns, townships, counties, etc…) that passed balloon release bans. Visit https://balloonsblow.org/balloon-laws/ for a complete list and other excellent resources.
Intentional Balloon Releases are Completely Preventable
Education and facts about the impacts of balloon releases has led to their declining popularity and acceptance. Even in locations without legal bans, balloon releases have been cancelled or simply not considered based on the facts and knowledge that they’re short-lived feel-good moments, that are also grand-scale littering events.
The non-profit organization, “Balloons Blow,” maintains a list of “Balloon releases averted” (https://balloonsblow.org/balloon-releases-averted/). This list describes actions that the organization has taken, or others have taken, to cancel and avert an intentional balloon release. Here’s a few cases from their website I’d like to highlight:
Alternatives to Releasing Balloons
We can avoid the dark side of balloon releases and find easy alternatives that are also safer. The first alternative is do nothing – yes, nothing. A life with less stuff does not mean a lesser life. Balloon releases, and their alternatives, are not essential for human life. With that said, there are alternatives to balloon releases that are less harmful to the environment we all share. See a few alternatives below, and for more on this topic, visit https://balloonsblow.org/environmentally-friendly-alternatives.
Sources and Additional Information: