Experts reveal damage done by balloons to wildlife and the environment

Balloonacy! It’s the latest celebrity boasta garish display of balloons costing thousands. But now experts are bursting their bubble by warning of the risk to wildlife and the environment

  • Experts are warning against the polluting effects of the celebrity ‘balloon arch
  • Poorly disposed of balloons are causing considerable damage to wildlife
  • 一种 2019 study shows balloon debris is the material most likely to kill marine birds
  • ‘It is puzzling why anyone these days would waste money on such a temporary item,’ said Danielle Vosburgh, co-founder of Balloons Blow
  • From baby showers to birthdays, no big celebration is complete without balloons.

    But where once Mum would puff up a multi-coloured pack of five and stick a few to the front door, now it’s not truly considered a party unless you’ve entered through a voluminous balloon arch, with numerous artfully inflated sculptures dotted around.

    Celebrities are at the forefront of the trend, from Millie Mackintosh and 麦莉·赛勒斯(Miley Cyrus) to footballers Rio Ferdinand哈里凯恩.

    Should you have cash to blow, the sky’s the limit, with balloon artists promising to make everything from a bespoke bouquet to a backdrop or bridge.

    Decor for a party like the one Khloe Kardashian recently threw for her daughter True, 三, could cost close to £10,000.

    然而, there are some more affordable options. John Lewis sells assemble-yourself balloon garlands of 70 to 200-plus balloons, starting at just £20.

    It’s no wonder these beautiful, bouncy creations are being pasted all over Instagram.

    Yet look past the wow-factor and the bubble quickly bursts. For just like plastic bags, poorly disposed of balloons are a terrible polluter, responsible for killing animals that ingest or become trapped in them, adding to the burden of plastic waste in landfill and in our oceans, and — in the case of helium-filled balloons — misusing precious gases needed in healthcare.

    No party is complete without balloons. But where once Mum would puff up a multi-coloured pack of five and stick a few to the front door, now it’s not truly considered a party unless you’ve entered through a voluminous balloon arch, with numerous artfully inflated sculptures dotted around (图为: Amy Hart)

    No party is complete without balloons. But where once Mum would puff up a multi-coloured pack of five and stick a few to the front door, now it’s not truly considered a party unless you’ve entered through a voluminous balloon arch, with numerous artfully inflated sculptures dotted around (图为: Amy Hart)

    Celebrities are at the forefront of the balloon trend, from Millie Mackintosh and Miley Cyrus to footballers Rio Ferdinand and Harry Kane (图为)

    Celebrities are at the forefront of the balloon trend, from Millie Mackintosh and Miley Cyrus to footballers Rio Ferdinand and Harry Kane (图为)

    Just like plastic bags, poorly disposed of balloons are a terrible polluter, responsible for killing animals that ingest or become trapped in them, adding to the burden of plastic waste in landfill and in our oceans (图为: Rylan with a balloon arch)

    Just like plastic bags, poorly disposed of balloons are a terrible polluter, responsible for killing animals that ingest or become trapped in them, adding to the burden of plastic waste in landfill and in our oceans (图为: Rylan with a balloon arch)

    Should you have cash to blow, the sky’s the limit, with balloon artists promising to make everything from a bespoke bouquet to a backdrop or bridge (图为: Millie Mackintosh)

    Should you have cash to blow, the sky’s the limit, with balloon artists promising to make everything from a bespoke bouquet to a backdrop or bridge (图为: Millie Mackintosh)

    ‘Balloons are a wasteful single-use product that quickly becomes rubbish,’ says Danielle Vosburgh, co-founder of Balloons Blow, a campaign group fighting to bring awareness to the particular environmental hazard they pose.

    ‘Whether released to become rubbish far away or used in arches and displays, they all become garbage, which can kill wildlife and adds to already overflowing landfills.

    In a time when most are becoming aware of how we all need to lighten our impact on the environment and create less waste, it is alarming how balloons are still being used by businesses and social media influencers.

    ‘It is puzzling why anyone these days would waste money on such a temporary item.’

    Over the past decade, environmentalists have worked to highlight dangers of helium balloons, with initiatives such as the Marine Conservation Society’s Don’t Let Go campaign resulting in more than 80 local authorities across the UK banning the release of helium balloons on their land.

    Yet just as headway is made on balloon releases — once popular at memorials or to ‘send a message’ into the sky — along come festoons of balloons in place of floral arrangements.

    Presented in this new format, suddenly it seems their environmental threat is forgotten. In the same way that helium balloons released into the sky float for miles before falling back to earth as litter, if not popped and thrown away with household waste safely, balloons used in arches can also end up posing a serious threat to wildlife.

    Khloe Kardashian's daughter, True Thompson, is pictured with a mound of balloons on her 3rd birthday, 2021

    Khloe Kardashian’s daughter, True Thompson, is pictured with a mound of balloons on her 3rd birthday, 2021

    Myleene Klass celebrated a baby announcement with a huge balloon arch which she posted across social media

    Myleene Klass celebrated a baby announcement with a huge balloon arch which she posted across social media

    ‘Balloons or balloon fragments were the marine debris most likely to cause mortality, and they killed almost one in five of the seabirds that ingested them,' said marine scientist Lauren Roman (图为: Leigh-Anne Pinnock)

    ‘Balloons or balloon fragments were the marine debris most likely to cause mortality, and they killed almost one in five of the seabirds that ingested them,’ said marine scientist Lauren Roman (图为: Leigh-Anne Pinnock)

    一种 2019 study showed that balloons are the plastic debris that is most likely to kill seabirds. Of thousands of birds inspected, the leading cause of death was blockage of the gastrointestinal tract by soft plastics such as balloons.

    ‘Although soft plastics accounted for just 5 per cent of items ingested, they were responsible for more than 40 per cent of the mortalities,’ said marine scientist Lauren Roman, one of the study’s authors.

    ‘Balloons or balloon fragments were the marine debris most likely to cause mortality, and they killed almost one in five of the seabirds that ingested them.’

    Yet surely that’s not a risk if the balloons are disposed of responsibly? In theory, balloons can be recycled, and balloons made of latex are biodegradable. 事实上, it’s not nearly that simple.

    The majority of recycling services are unlikely to recycle balloons of either the latex or foil variety, while the biodegradable claims of rubber latex balloons are, like so many ‘biodegradable’ or ‘compostable’ products, rather overstated.

    Still relying on an industry-funded experiment from 1989 — carried out on just six balloons over six weeks — the balloon industry will claim that latex decomposes at the same rate as an oak leaf.

    Yet this is a process that can, depending on soil conditions, take as long as a couple of years.

    一种 2019 study showed that balloons are the plastic debris that is most likely to kill seabirds. Of thousands of birds inspected, the leading cause of death was blockage of the gastrointestinal tract by soft plastics such as balloons (图为: 麦莉·赛勒斯(Miley Cyrus))

    一种 2019 study showed that balloons are the plastic debris that is most likely to kill seabirds. Of thousands of birds inspected, the leading cause of death was blockage of the gastrointestinal tract by soft plastics such as balloons (图为: 麦莉·赛勒斯(Miley Cyrus))

    The majority of recycling services are unlikely to recycle balloons of either the latex or foil variety, while the biodegradable claims of rubber latex balloons are, like so many ‘biodegradable’ or ‘compostable’ products, rather overstated (图为: 科琳·鲁尼)

    The majority of recycling services are unlikely to recycle balloons of either the latex or foil variety, while the biodegradable claims of rubber latex balloons are, like so many ‘biodegradable’ or ‘compostable’ products, rather overstated (图为: 科琳·鲁尼)

    ‘Balloons are a wasteful single-use product that quickly becomes rubbish,’ says Danielle Vosburgh, co-founder of Balloons Blow, a campaign group fighting to bring awareness to the particular environmental hazard they pose (图为: Philip Schofield)

    ‘Balloons are a wasteful single-use product that quickly becomes rubbish,’ says Danielle Vosburgh, co-founder of Balloons Blow, a campaign group fighting to bring awareness to the particular environmental hazard they pose (图为: Philip Schofield)

    And an oak leaf, unlike a latex balloon, is unlikely to have had colourings or other chemicals added that will cause it to take longer to decompose. Nor is an oak leaf likely to choke a hedgehog if it were to mistake one for lunch.

    To top it all off, helium, used by some balloon architects to lift their ubiquitous arches, is ‘a finite resource better conserved for where it is critically needed’, says Danielle Vosburgh.

    While the gas is not a polluter, it is not sustainable because, despite being the second most plentiful gas in the universe, it is comparatively rare on Earth.

    We use it to cool MRI machines, to treat asthma and emphysema, and in technological essentials such as fibre-optic cables and semiconductor chips.

    But don’t feel deflated. Putting a pin in these eco-unfriendly inflatables is just an excuse to redecorate.

    Let’s hang up the bunting to celebrate more sustainable festive flourishes such as pinwheels, pom poms, flags, streamers and banners.

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