Do not let slogans from the balloon industry fool you! ‘Biodegradable balloons’ are supposed to break down at the same rate as oak leaves, but how long is that exactly?
Greenwashing is everywhere, hence the importance of being alert, eco-conscious customers.
Studies have shown that balloons do not always simply disintegrate in the air; they often travel for miles and get ingested by seabirds and sea turtles.
Balloons are not only causing more unnecessary plastic waste and pollution, but they are also causing harm to wildlife.
Growing up, we have (as many others) enjoyed a balloon release at a party. However, we can no longer omit the impact all our choices have on the environment.
The low waste community is growing, and so is our awareness.
What Is Wrong With Balloons?
A recent study has shown that balloons are among the three most harmful pollutants threatening marine life (1).
Balloons released from outdoor events will likely end up in waterways and oceans, where animals can mistake them for food, ingest them and sometimes even die from starvation.
Namely, it is a part of the single-use plastic waste issue we all know too well, leading to sea and soil water contamination, which are only a few harmful consequences.
Additionally, balloons are inflated with air or helium (hence it will rise in the air.
Helium is a precious, nonrenewable resource. It is used, among others, in the medical sectors (MRI scanners or breathing ventilators for infants) (2).
They can be a safety hazard for toddlers and young children. Furthermore, When touching a power line, Mylar balloons can cause severe power outages.
Last but not least, balloons are a serious threat to animals, including seabirds.
You might ask why not use biodegradable balloons, then?
As far as we know, we have not been able to find ‘biodegradable’ balloons made of something other than latex.
Even though manufacturers might label these latex-made balloons as biodegradable (as fast as an oak leaf), studies have shown that it can take between 6 months and four years to disintegrate in a compost heap (3).
And before they do and are floating in the air or on water, imagine the havoc they can provoke.
Hence, unless an innovative solution emerges in the balloon industry, we hope the above arguments will have convinced you to change your decorative habits when throwing out a party.
The Rs Of Zero Waste: The New Normal
Considering the above findings, avoiding balloons has been a no-brainer for us. Thus, we flag balloons as typical single-use-and-hard-to-recycle items to avoid.
However, we understand that some of you are looking at finding a compromise similar to balloon releases.
Therefore, let’s take a similar approach to our article on glow sticks and bubble wrap, in which we encourage you to apply the zero waste logic.
This means, among other things, looking at other earth-friendly alternatives for your gatherings and recycle used balloons properly. Let’s take a look together:
Consider replacing balloons with other eco friendly options less harmful to the environment, and wildlife in particular. Ask yourself whether these are indeed a must for your party?
We believe the below balloon alternatives will create an atmosphere just as beautiful and magic for any event: they can also be either released in the air or used to decorate the venue.
- Homemade bubbles: simply mix a cup of water with five tablespoons of your dishwashing liquid. What about the wand? Use a glass or stainless straw should you no longer have one from store-bought bubbles lying around the house.
- DIY ribbons: if you are a good seamstress, why not assemble old clothes and fabrics into a colorful ribbon?
- Flowers: either dried or freshly cut, these give a nice touch to your table. Compost them afterward.
- DIY pinwheels from old pieces and rags: another colorful swap to replace so-called biodegradable balloons.
- Confetti from leaves: take your hole punch and create your own yellow/green confetti that will quickly decompose after use.
- Low-energy or compostable garlands for a stylish touch on tables, ceilings, or around poles.
Beautifully crafted candles that are vegan-friendly and free of any synthetic or questionable ingredients. Reuse the jar once your candle is entirely burned.
Did you know you can even use them as containers and freeze them?
Conventional balloon releases are the past, and we hope this section was sufficient to answer your needs!
If you are looking for another original, environmentally friendly decorations for your party, explore our ideas here.
If you cannot apply ‘Refuse,’ the next step is to explore how you can ‘Reduce’ waste and its impact on the environment.
Balloons usually come in two forms: latex- balloon and mylar- balloon. Known as foil balloons, a mylar balloon is made from metallicized polyester, often coated with a metallic finish (4).
Therefore, these types of balloons are not biodegradable, which means you should avoid them at all costs for your celebrations, and in particular, your balloon release events!
Latex balloons are made from rubber, from the sap of rubber trees, to be precise.
These are technically biodegradable, as explained above. However, we can only recommend that you use these inside to at least avoid harming wildlife.
Do not expect them to break down as fast ‘as an oak leaf,’ because this takes years to happen. See the below section on how to recycle any latex balloon once unusable properly.
We need to consider the material balloons are made of, but also what they are inflated with. As detailed earlier, you should reduce and, if possible, avoid helium-filled balloons.
While being the second-most common element in the universe, it is relatively rare on Earth (5). Moreover, it is the planet’s only – completely -nonrenewable source.
Hence, opt for air or water instead of helium balloons.
Reuse / Repurpose
Should you already have balloons at home, the most environmentally friendly approach before disposal is to reuse them as long as possible.
There are thousands of creative ways to repurpose them. Here are our favorites:
- You can simply re-inflate any latex balloon in good shape thanks to a straw.
- Cut them in long strings and create your own upcycled jewelry or DIY wrapping paper.
- Donate functioning balloons to schools, hospitals, nursing homes. Have a look around if you cannot volunteer in local celebrations, such as fairs or sporting events. The organizers will, for sure, appreciate DIY and free decorations.
Water balloon fights will, for sure, entertain your children! Do not forget to collect the small pieces of the balloons on the ground and look at the below details for proper recycling.
We cannot stress this point sufficiently: recycling is the last resort of the zero waste approach. In an ideal world, no product should pass that step.
This means landfills and incinerators should never be filled with toxic and dangerous chemicals.
To give you a bit of background, landfills cause many harmful effects on people and the planet. To name just a few (6):
- When organic materials decompose, they release methane, a potent greenhouse gas contributing to global warming. However, this type of waste is easily avoidable thanks to composting!
- Landfills cause groundwater pollution: when rain falls, organic and inorganic constituents dissolve into toxic substances resulting in local groundwater contamination.
Bearing in mind the above, we encourage you, again and again, to search for proper recycling solutions for any product. For balloons, in particular, two options are available in the western world:
- Terracycle: the company’s zero waste boxes are a revolutionary solution for difficult-to-recycle waste. Yes, you need to pay to recycle. However, you can rest assured that waste is being safely and sustainably processed.
- Local recycling centers: depending on the type of balloons and chemicals used, it is likely to be accepted. Ask around!
This review highlighted that there are no (yet) eco friendly alternatives for all conventional (often polluting) products such as mylar or latex balloons.
The purpose was to encourage you to refuse what you do not need and repurpose what you already own in a creative way.
At Puratium, we believe we need to increase our understanding of traditions and their related typical products.
Even though they come with good intentions, the impacts of balloon releases on wildlife and the environment can be disastrous, to cite one example.
Let’s continue our journey together towards better, eco friendly choices for our home and daily routines.
Our article on the matter will help you envisage zero waste in a step by step process. No need to change all your habits at once!