Balloons are a popular way for people to celebrate milestones in their lives. While balloons are colorful and fun to hold, they can lead to pollution and harm wildlife and the environment. Some states are taking action to prevent balloon litter from contaminating ecosystems and waterways, including California, Connecticut, Florida, Tennessee, and Virginia.
Many balloons are not properly disposed of, and can end up in the ocean or along shorelines. The Ocean Conservancy found that from 2008 to 2016, almost 300,000 balloons were found along U.S. beaches. That’s around 37,500 balloons per year!
Due to balloons’ shape, texture, and bright color, they are often mistaken for food by marine animals. If eaten, balloons can wreak havoc on animals by causing them to suffocate, have internal injuries, lose nutrients, starve, or remain in an animal’s stomach where it cannot be digested. For example, balloons can take the shape of jellyfish in water, attracting sea turtles (jellyfish are their favorite food). Balloons also can entangle birds and other animals, restricting their ability to move.
Balloons also add to growing concerns over global helium shortages. Helium is the second-most abundant element in the universe While helium is plentiful in other planets and galaxies,on Earth it is buried in the planet’s crust, and floats into space not bound by Earth’s gravity. When energy companies drill for natural gas, helium is released simultaneously. This helium can be separated from the natural gas and stored for use.
The largest reserves of helium are in the United States and Qatar. However, many of the helium reserves are set to close, and recent embargoes have closed down production in Qatar. This is a cause for concern, as helium is needed for much more than balloons. Liquid helium is used for MRI scanners, cleaning fuel tanks in rockets, and in computer circuit boards. Balloons waste helium that is crucial for healthcare systems, scientific research, engineering, and computer analytics.
Good news: there are several alternatives to balloons that can make celebrations just as memorable! Some recommended alternatives to balloons include candles, visual light displays, bubbles, and planting flowers or native trees. These alternatives can brighten up any celebration without the concern of plastic waste and helium usage. Let’s make a change to stop using balloons and save our wildlife.