8 Reasons Why it’s Time to Say Goodbye to Balloons
We grew up with balloons at our birthday parties and single-use water balloon fights in the summer but now it’s time to say goodbye to balloons. There are so many cases of marine life mistaking balloons for food that we can no longer ignore the harm they cause. Read on for 8 reasons why it’s time to say goodbye to balloons (and don’t worry, check out our blog on how to replace balloons with wildlife friendly alternatives!)
#1 If you’re a seabird or a turtle, balloons look like food
Remember the photo of the turtle with the plastic straw up its nose? Well, balloons are even worse for marine wildlife because if you’re a turtle or a seabird, balloons look like dinner.
Balloons likeness to their favourite jellyfish meal means that sea turtles specifically target balloons to eat. Eating balloons is particularly harmful to turtles because their inability to throw up means that the balloon is stuck and can result in starvation.
Short-tailed shearwaters are seabirds that breed off the south coast of Australia and are sometimes seen in NZ waters. They especially like eating red arrow squid but can eat red, pink and orange balloons by mistake. 86% of the balloons eaten by shearwaters are these three colours.
#2 Balloons are ‘disproportionately lethal’
Do you even need 7 other reasons if one of them is ‘disproportionately lethal?’
When balloons are ingested by animals they are more likely to cause death than other marine debris. This is because the elasticity of the rubber can block the airways and the gastrointestinal tract and cause suffocation or starvation.
Balloons blocking the digestive tract in sea turtles can cause float syndrome. The obstruction results in the build up of gas which prevents the turtle from being able to dive. The turtle then can’t search for food below the surface of the ocean and becomes vulnerable to boat strike, shark predation, accumulation of barnacles and sunburn.
Balloons are particularly dangerous to seabirds where, if they are eaten, they are 32 times more likely to cause death than ingesting hard plastic.
#3 We put balloons into the environment deliberately
While balloons aren’t as common in the oceans as plastic, balloon litter is there because we’ve deliberately put it into the environment through balloon releases or water fights. Balloons that end up floating in the oceans are dangerous to wildlife but this is an easy problem to solve (hooray!)
- Switch to EcoSplat Reusable Water Balloons for water fights
- Don’t participate in balloon releases
- Don’t play with balloons outside
- Commit to blowing bubbles not balloons and join the 230,000 people who have signed Zoos Victoria’s pledge https://www.zoo.org.au/balloons/
#4 Rubber tree plantations reduce biodiversity
Balloons are made from latex which comes from rubber trees. Latex is harvested through the renewable method of tapping trees for their sap. A rubber tree can produce latex for over 20 years. But rubber trees are grown in plantations which are causing deforestation in biodiversity hotspots, primarily in South East Asia.
We know that the rainforest is being cut down for palm oil but did you know that rubber plantations cover an area equivalent to 71% of palm oil plantations? In Cambodia alone, rubber plantations were responsible for a quarter of all deforestation. When land is deforested the number of plants and animals that can live there decreases resulting in a loss of biodiversity. Conversion of rainforest to rubber monoculture decreases species richness by up to 76%.
#5 The world is running out of helium
Helium is non-renewable, it’s produced deep inside the earth through natural radioactive decay from where it seeps up through the earth and gets trapped in pockets of natural gas. The world’s supply of helium is located in the USA, Algeria and Qatar and it takes millenia to be produced. Once it’s in the atmosphere it’s so light it can just float away from earth. So apart from balloons, what else is this precious resource used for? Space rockets, quantum computing and cooling down the superconducting magnets in MRI machines.
Should we be using such a precious non-renewable resource in balloons that are released into the atmosphere only to pollute the environment and endanger wildlife?
#6 Balloons are a suffocation risk
According to the US Consumer Protection Agency, “of all children’s products, balloons are the leading cause of suffocation death”. Uninflated balloons and balloon pieces that are inhaled can mould to the throat and lungs and block breathing.
#7 Balloons are not biodegradable
The raw material for balloons is natural latex but in order to make the rubber stronger and more elastic lots of chemicals (including sulphur, heavy metals, waxes, antioxidants, plasticizers, flame retardants and pigments) are added. All of these chemicals prevent the balloon from being biodegradable. Some companies market balloons as biodegradable but a recent study tested balloons in freshwater, saltwater and compost and found that the balloons did not degrade.
So when we use single-use water balloons and the pieces are all over the lawn they won’t break down (as you probably know when you find them in the bushes the following summer!)
#8 Balloons encourage single-use culture
Toy shops are wall to wall plastic - much of it cheap and disposable. On the one hand we’re teaching kids about sustainability and being environmentally responsible, but on the other we’re telling them that fun is plastic and disposable. How can we expect kids to engage with sustainability, and specifically responsible consumption if the fun they want to have is in conflict with the sustainability they are taught?
To make meaningful changes that help combat climate change we can’t compartmentalise our lives into 'sustainability' over here and 'things I want to do' over there.
That’s why we love EcoSplat - because they’re reusable, water fights last longer and there’s no rubbish to pick up. So fun and sustainability are the same thing!
Find out More:
5 Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Balloons
- Schuyler Q, Hardesty BD, Wilcox C, Townsend K (2012) To Eat or Not to Eat? Debris Selectivity by Marine Turtles. PLoS ONE 7(7): e40884. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040884
- Rubber Jellyfish, Conservation Heart Film, 2019
- Roman L, Schuyler QA, Hardesty BD, Townsend KA (2016) Anthropogenic Debris Ingestion by Avifauna in Eastern Australia. PLoS ONE 11(8): e0158343.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0158343
- Lauren Roman, Britta Denise Hardesty, MarkA. Hindell, & Chris Wilcox, A quantitative analysis linking seabird mortality and marine debris ingestion. Scientific Reports | (2019) 9:3202 | https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-36585-9
- Eleanor Warren-Thomas, Paul M. Dolman, & David P. Edwards Increasing Demand for Natural Rubber Necessitates a Robust, Sustainability Initiative to Mitigate Impacts on Tropical Biodiversity Conservation Letters, July/August 2015, 8(4), 230–241
- Gilmour, M.E & Lavers, J.L., Latex balloons do not degrade uniformly in freshwater, marine and composting environments, Journal of Hazardous Materials 403 (2021) 123629