The Kritic

Balloon "Jellyfish"

Balloon “Jellyfish”Photo: Balloons Blow

Don’t let them go!!

Since 2011 there has been a facebook page and a website dedicated to the awareness of an environmental hazard few of us have put thought to and that hazard is the wonderful colourful balloons that most of us have used and pretty much all of us have seen being used at one time or another.

Millions of helium filled latex rubber balloons are released each year all around the world. After a balloon is released, it rises to the height of about 8500 metres where the atmospheric pressure and the temperature decrease. At this point the balloon bursts and the pieces float back down and are scattered over a very wide area.

Chelsea & Danielle, who are based in the state of Florida in the U.S.A., update their facebook page pretty much on a daily basis with photos of collections of flotsam, jetsam and in particular balloons of all shapes, types and stages of deterioration.

A quote from the balloons blow website states “The balloon industry has set “standards” for themselves claiming that releasing balloons that are hand-tied, “biodegradable” latex balloons without any attachments of ribbon is environmentally friendly.”  This green washing by the balloon industry is a tactic used by many industries, such as the Forestry industry when the say they are sustainably harvesting old growth forests or when Organic producers of food proudly display their product wrapped in plastic from which Bisphenol A (BPA) is leaching onto the product ( I know someone out there will jump on me  saying that BPA is an organic compound but given the dispute over the health effects upon humans and the fact those displaying the title “Organic” are doing so to promote a healthy product. I think it is relevant for the “green washing” example.)

In 1989 whilst working as Technical Advisor to the Environmental Committee of the National Association of Balloon Artists (N.A.B.A), D. K. Burchette BSc. M.Sc. in Chemical Engineering whose masters thesis, in 1967, concerned solid waste generation and disposal, produced a paper on the “study of the effect of balloon releases on the environment“. It is this paper that the balloon industry relies on for it’s claim that as they are made from a completely natural substance that they are biodegradable and therefore safe to the environment.

From the conclusions summarised in that paper:

Field tests show that latex rubber balloons are very degradable on exposure in the environment under a broad range of exposure conditions including exposure to sunlight and weathering, exposure to water, and exposure to soil. The balloon samples show significant degradation after six weeks of exposure. The balloon samples appear to be degrading at about the same rate as oak tree leaves and about three times faster than small pieces of wood (oak and pine).

The rate of degradation observed for the natural latex balloons should prevent their accumulation in the environment to levels which could be harmful.

Another facebook site is “Don’t Inflate to Celebrate” whose author, Annabel Gardner, is based in Dorset in the UK and has been “spreading the word about balloons since 2005”. Annabel was assigned the role “Balloon Warden” whilst being “a voluntary Marine Warden” for the local Wildlife Trusts. Annabel points out on her page that “…regardless of how long it takes, balloons have an impact upon the environment the moment they enter it!”

Both Don’t Inflate to Celebrate and Balloons Blow have looked into the biodegradability of latex balloons. Balloons blow currently has in progress an experiment to see for themselves how long it takes for balloons to degrade. Ongoing pictorial updates on this experiment can be seen on the Balloons Blow Biodegradability Backyard Test page.

It is not a matter of whether or not latex is biodegradable, or how long it takes, it is the problems that can be caused before they are completely biodegraded.

The D. K. Burchette BSc. M.Sc. paper goes on to say:

The density of balloons falling from a balloon release is on the order of one balloon per 15 square miles. This is extremely low and it would seem unlikely that an animal could find and eat enough balloon material to do harm under these conditions.

Given the photographs on both facebook pages it is obvious that this statement, made in 1989, needs to be updated or removed completely from the industry’s green washing comments.

"Biodegradable" Latex Balloon fragment in stomach of green turtle

“Biodegradable” Latex Balloon fragment in stomach of green turtle Photo: Rod Penrose, Marine Environmental Monitoring, UK CSIP
 

In answering the question “Is it true that balloons have been found ingested by sea animals?” the National Association of Balloon Artists and Suppliers (NABAS) answered with the ridiculous response of “Some cases have been reported, but balloon fragments are unlikely to cause harm if accidentally ingested. This is because latex and the dyes used in latex colouring are non-toxic.”

Congratulations must go to Chelsea, of Balloons Blow, who has announced that they contacted the Guinness Book of World Records in March, 2012 concerning a future 25k balloon release whose organiser planned to set a record. The Guinness Book of World Records responded with some great news:

Dear Chelsea,
We no longer recognize this record, precisely because of environmental concerns you’ve outlined.
If we do receive evidence for this record attempt, we would not approve the record as we do not sanction or encourage this activity in any way.
Thank you,
Guinness World Records NA, Inc.

On 22 June, 2012 Balloons Blow posted that an Orlando, Florida mother released 7 balloons with her daughter for her 3rd birthday, with a note attached requesting to be contacted via email. We very politely informed her of the harm released balloons cause and that her balloons ended up 130 miles away, just feet from sea turtle nests. We were hoping for a better outcome, but after a few mean-spirited emails from her, her response was: “The only things we are sorry about is that they were found by someone like you, B_—”

In the photo provided with the Balloons Blow post it was possible for me to make out the email address so I decided to make contact as well, just to see what response I would receive. Below is the correspondence that took place.

Subject:   Happy Birthday Jennifer
From:   Tee Kay
Date:   Fri, June 22, 2012 8:12 am
To:   Jennifer Joy

Hello Jennifer,

I was so excited to see that you turned 3 on June 13, 2012. Congratulations.

I was especially excited when your Mommy decided to put her contact
details on to the balloons that she let go in order to celebrate your
birthday.

These balloons landed some 130 miles away right near a Turtle Nesting site.

So as requested by your Mommy I am making contact, in this case to let
her, and you, know what an absolute disgrace it is that your Mommy feels
it is necessary to put marine life and birds at risk.

Jennifer, the actions of your mother and others like her show their total
disregard for the environment they want to leave behind for their
children.

Jennifer your Mommy will probably never read this to you but hopefully
through the wider community and decent schooling you will grow to learn
the value of our wonderful ecosystem. It may also lead to a change in her
own actions, but unfortunately adults are the hardest to teach.

The future of our planet lies with children like you Jennifer so please
consider the environment in everything you do with your life.

Kind Regards,

TK

Subject: Re: Happy Birthday Jennifer
From: Jimmy Terrell (At Jennifer’s Email Address)
Date: Fri, June 22, 2012 11:45 am
To: Tee Kay

Well I hope you don’t buy bottles water or use at any point plastic bags from a grocery store!
people do there part in many ways, excuse me for the indiscretion.

Well it appears from the response I received that they have changed the tone of their responses and perhaps the right lesson has been learnt

So next time you want to celebrate think of the environment or you may end up on Balloon Blow’s Wall of Shame.

 
References:

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Comments

  1. Deborah Bluangel said:
    9 August 8:41 am

    Well written and thought provoking, I have found many balloons on my local stretch of beach, most of them with very long plastic ribbons attached, but also sometimes the small water bomb style ones. We wouldn’t be allowed to go to a park and litter but balloon releases are increasingly being used in ceremonies such as weddings and funerals without any thought as to where they could end up.
    Some people are genuinely ignorant of this issue and a little education will go a long way, this is why groups such as those mentioned in this article are vitally important to support.

  2. JJ said:
    9 August 9:35 pm

    Thank you for this excellent article. It is indeed something that few people know about. I will do what I can to spread the word.

  3. ScumbagSteve said:
    27 February 4:53 am

    I have now decided after reading this article, to mass release 10,000 balloons at my wedding. I dislike turtles, and anything dumb enough to eat latex.
    They’re kind of like Panda’s. If you aren’t smart enough to reproduce (Or not eat latex in this case), then that sucks, but you just might need to die anyway.
    Don’t worry though, I’ll make sure to put my email on the end of every ribbon of every balloon, just so you can send as many condecending emails as you need to to make yourself feel good again, after choking yourself to vomit up the countless poor little horses and cows you just put to death in your loaded McDonald’s burger.
    And I won’t get into the endless number of little asian children you are subjecting to a life of slave wages just by using your cute little computer.
    Deal with it, a turtle is nothing compared to a child.
    Pursue a more worthwhile subject to rage about.

  4. Tee Kay said:
    27 February 8:36 pm

    Well hello Mr ScumbagSteve

    You obviously have been waiting a while to get around to trolling my blog as this one is from six months ago, so let me make sure I have this right; you are against turtles, pandas, McDonalds and the environment in general. But you are into horses and cows. Also given your dislike of the way you perceive all computers are made I take it that you are using your telekinetic ability to communicate by email. (Due to the lateness of your comment you might need a firmware update on that telekinesis.)

    I find it interesting that you put human earthlings above non-human earthlings and that you feel it necessary to declare that you will punish the latter by releasing 10,000 balloons to celebrate the union between you and the poor person you have bound and gagged in your basement.

    Do you realise how ridiculous you come across because you feel animals are dumb because the pollution people like you release looks like food?

    Being the troll you obviously are I do not expect a response, at least any that would contain some semblance of intelligence.

    TK

  5. […] August 2012 I introduced readers of The Kritic to the problem with balloons and their affect on the […]

  6. Kooeenbabe said:
    21 May 3:16 am

    I have worked in the balloon Industry for over 30 years and NABAS have been a strong organisation for the well being of the environment, birds, animals, and mammals. There is no recorded confirmation that any bird, animal or mammal has ever died from ingesting a balloon!
    There were 3 studies done by the Florida Marine Conservation Group on feeding balloons to sealife, ie Turtles, and the study found that the balloons went through their system and out the other end totally harmless.
    They have been found dead from plastic bags and plastic bottles and ribbons and valves, that is down to the ignorance of people like yourselves ie uneducated joe public, not the professional balloonist, it is educating the ordinary public like yourselves into disposing of their rubbish correctly and not leave it lying around on beaches etc. As the plastic bags and bottles are here to stay, its easier to have a pop at the balloon industry, Its a pity you don’t search the facts as rigorously as you find someone to blame.

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