Think Green

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The hidden and potentially harmful impact of balloon releases

Balloon decorations can make any party more festive. Inexpensive and easily accessible, balloons can add some lighthearted flare to any festive occasion. But helium-filled balloons released en masse at sporting events, parades, ribbon-cuttings, and other special occasions can be harmful to the environment.

While balloons can be beautiful to look at and awe-inspiring when ascending to the clouds, environmentalists warn that what goes up must come down. Fragments of latex balloons and ribbon have been found by scientists conducting autopsies on birds and marine animals. Balloons can be particularly dangerous to the endangered leatherback sea turtle, which can mistake a balloon in the water for a jellyfish — its most prized delicacy. Once balloons have been consumed by animals, they can contribute to blockages that prevent proper digestion. Whales, dolphins and fish also are at risk.

According to the environmental organization BalloonsBlow.org, every released balloon behaves differently. All latex balloons, even those that are natural rubber and biodegradeable, will fall to the ground as litter, and it can take years for balloon bits to decompose.

There are many other earth-friendly alternatives to balloon releases. Luminaries, garden spinners, ribbon dancers, streamers, dancing inflatables, and floating flowers are just some of the less harmful ways to engage party-goers. For those who still desire the release of something into the air, blowing bubbles remains an easy and harmless way to have spheres coast into the sky.

Those who prefer to decorate with balloons are encouraged not to release them in large groups. Hand-tied latex balloons with raffia strings are safer than balloons secured with plastic rings and ribbon.