Although balloons generally symbolize joyful festivities, they aren't as innocent as you might think — between their short shelf lives, non-biodegradable materials, and the fact they're effectively single-use, they're not much better than other types of notoriously wasteful party supplies like confetti or party hats. And, because they often fly off, disposing of them properly isn't always possible, which is why you often find them popped on the sidewalk, or strewn in a tree.
This leads us to wonder if we should permanently shy from the traditional party staple — keep reading for more on the impact of balloons, alternative solutions, if there are biodegradable varieties, and beyond.
What is the environmental impact of balloons?
There's nothing more seemingly magical than a balloon release, but unfortunately, their impact is anything but. Although latex balloons are marketed as "biodegradable," they can really take six months to four years to decompose, as per ENC. And in seawater, they deteriorate even slower. Helium balloons, on the other hand, are plastic — therefore, it takes much longer, if they aren't disposed of properly. If deflated, though, they are refillable and recyclable, according to Balloons.
According to Tree Hugger, the bright colors of balloons tend to attract wildlife, and sadly, animals will sometimes mistake them for food, which leads to obstructions in their gastrointestinal tracts. The strings from the balloons can also wrap around their bodies, which often leads to asphyxiation. Researchers in Australia found that a total of one in five seabirds die regularly, as a result of eating a balloon.
It should come as no surprise that — for this reason — many cities and states have banned balloon releases. A few states that have enacted bans include: California, Connecticut, Florida, Tennessee, and Virginia. Florida has banned balloons entirely across Palm Beach County beaches and parks. Atlantic City, New Jersey; Nantucket, Mass.; and Provincetown, Mass. have also passed laws that prevent large-scale balloon releases, for the sake of the environment.
Are there biodegradable balloons?
As previously mentioned, many balloon manufacturers greenwash their products, claiming that latex balloons are "biodegradable" — but in reality, they can take up to four years to completely breakdown. In an experiment, as reported by The Conversation, a balloon labeled "100 percent biodegradable" was thrown in a compost and after 16 weeks, it was found in almost perfect shape beneath the compost.
Between the many different types of chemicals that are added to the "all-natural latex" in these supposedly "biodegradable balloons," and balloons' incredible ability to travel, there's no way a balloon could be biodegradable or environmentally safe. Its light weight is bound to carry it for miles and miles from whatever landfill it was sitting in initially, and it's going to end up getting stuck in a tree or in the ocean, no matter what.
What are fun balloon alternatives?
If you'd like to actually have a low-impact celebration, forget the "biodegradable balloons." Give your guests the same effect with eco-friendly confetti, or simply peruse some of our favorite sustainable party supplies — it's full of fun stuff, no matter the occasion. Or you can DIY a banner. Bottom line: get creative, and forget the balloons.