Are Single-Use Water Balloons Biodegradable?

Sometimes we hear the claim that single-use water balloons are biodegradable but is this true? Is there really no harm in leaving millions of pieces of water balloons littering our gardens and beaches?

Rubber being collected from a rubber tree

Single-use water balloons are made of latex which comes from the sap of the rubber tree. To make this natural product into an elastic, rubbery, coloured balloon lots of chemicals need to be added including sulphur, heavy metals, plasticizers and pigments.

The end result is a long way from the original natural latex.

 

 

So what does happen to the coloured rubbery pieces once they are land in our garden or the ocean?

A recent study shows that balloons don’t biodegrade in the environment - not in compost, freshwater or seawater.

Photos of balloons from experiment showing balloons not degrading in compost over 4, 8 and 16 weeks
Evidence of balloons not degrading in compost over 4, 8 and 16 weeks
Photo showing balloons not degrading in saltwater in 4, 8 and 14 weeks

Evidence of balloons not degrading in saltwater in 4, 8 and 14 weeks

What happens to them after we've played with them for 5 minutes and they've popped into the grass?

Well, unless we spend hours picking up all those little pieces of rubber eventually they wash into the sea where they become hazardous to marine animals.

Balloons in the ocean float on the surface looking like jellyfish, which makes them a not-so-delicious meal for marine animals like sea turtles and seabirds.

And what makes balloons so hazardous is that they don’t just pass through animals - the rubbery texture of the balloon can block their intestines causing animals to starve.

 

They might start out as natural latex but single-use water balloons are not biodegradable and are dangerous to our seabirds and turtles so swap your disposable for reusable for more fun and no rubbish!

 

References

Gilmour, Morgan, E., Lavers, Jennifer L., (2001), Latex balloons do not degrade uniformly in freshwater, marine and composting environments. Journal of Hazardous Materials 403

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