An Eco-Friendly Balloon That Didn’t Want to Become a Jellyfish

A great party needs balloons! They are the perfect item to decorate your event and give them an air of festivity because they are colorful, available in lots of different shapes, and they are simply fun. But – we knew there was a ‘but’ coming – what about the environment? The CSIRO already found in 2016 that balloons are among the “top three most harmful pollutants threatening marine wildlife”, along with plastic bags and bottles.

Oh, that’s easy, we buy biodegradable balloons! They are the wonderful eco-friendly alternative next to the terrible mylar aka foil balloons which are made from polyester resin coated with a metallic foil for beautiful designs. No no, ours are made from natural latex which is fully biodegradable. The sap of the rubber plant Hevea Brasiliensis, a tropical tree from South America and now cultivated all over the world, is used to produce rubber or latex balloons, and 100 % biodegradable.

Are Biodegradable Balloons Really Eco-Friendly?

Well, it is true that natural latex takes 6 months to 4 years to decompose and is therefore degrading as ‘fast’ as an oak tree leaf. However, this is already resulting in the first obstacle of making balloons eco-friendly. 4 years, that’s a really long time! The world is moving, and moving any rubbish in it with it. Animals are constantly looking for food. Oh, there’s this delicious jellyfish swimming in the ocean. Wait, what? That was actually an exploded balloon with a string? Darn!

Yep, and that’s obstacle #2, balloons very often come with ribbons, strings, clips, sticks, etc. attached to it. Not only do the smaller balloon pieces look like food, the strings can also endanger wildlife to become entangled in it, putting them at risk of being strangled to death. Anything attached to the balloon may not have the same properties as latex and won’t decompose. Eco-friendly natural latex doesn’t help if the attachments are still made of plastic.

But back to the eco-friendly balloons. Obstacle #3 on the way to being fully biodegradable comes with their production. Are you sure the manufacturer didn’t use preservatives, stabilizers and plasticizers to increase the durability? What about the color dyes? Are they natural? Theoretically, your balloons could have been biodegradable, but thanks to the added chemicals they lose this characteristic very often.

It is interesting to see that most of the balloon retail websites market their balloons as biodegradable but never list the ingredients to prove that. How can you be sure that they didn’t use other chemicals to counter-effect the biodegradability of natural latex?

So, summarizing, ‘eco-friendly’ balloons aren’t so eco-friendly after all because they

  • take too long to decompose,

  • can be eaten by wildlife in the meantime,

  • might not even decompose at all because of the added chemicals or plastic attachments.

And unless we build a composting plant that miraculously collects all escaped balloon parts all over the world to hide them until they did decompose, not even ‘fully biodegradable’ balloons would be good for the environment.

Man, why did I just research this topic further? I love balloons too! But as much as I always support everyone bringing color into our world, this isn’t the way to do it. Come on, there must be an alternative that makes us all happy again?!

Responsible Measures to Use Balloons

No need to bury our heads in the sand. Let’s learn how to use balloons in a way that protects the environment.

First of all, make sure that the natural latex isn’t the only thing being natural about the balloons you are buying. Check for further chemicals, and also purchase compostable crepe paper or cotton ribbons and other accessories. A CE certificate showing that substances comply with all requirements and guidelines of the EU is a good start but not a guarantee. Avoid clips and seal the balloons with a knot instead, as long as the amount allows your fingers to do this.

Second, if you really want to keep using balloons, ban balloon releases from your vocabulary. No more helium balloons released into the air or accidentally escaping from outdoor events. If at all, keep them attached to weights securely. They only end up in waterways and oceans, and are above a waste of helium. There are more important purposes to use this finite resource, such as in MRI scanners.

A great alternative for those releases are balloon drops. Filled with air and placed in a net above your heads, they will drop to a target area below and can easily be gathered afterwards to dispose them properly. This actually applies for all used balloons at your event, regardless of being declared eco-friendly or not. Dispose all balloons responsibly, pop them and put them in the respective bin.

Sustainable Alternatives

Talking about alternatives, here are some more. It doesn’t always have to be balloons, there are a lot of other fun, colorful decoration ideas out there:

  • use paper balloons,

  • switch to blowing bubbles (my favorite!),

  • hang up buntings, garlands, streamers, flags or banners,

  • catch the wind with kites and pinwheels,

  • decorate with honeycomb balls, tissue pom pom flower balls, tissue paper fans,

  • choose flowers that can be taken home or put into your compost afterwards,

  • float flower petals down a river to provide a sense of letting go,

  • place candles, colorful LEDs or lampions to brighten your event location, …

Phew, what a relief, isn’t it? We can still use balloons by handling them responsibly, and have all these wonderful alternatives on top of it! Btw. releasing Chinese paper lanterns is no sustainable alternative; you don’t want to cause an unattended fire wherever they may come down. And they will come down, trust me.

When used responsibly, balloons will have a minimal impact on the environment. But it does require some more care from your side. If you cannot guarantee or don’t have the time for a proper treatment of the balloons at your party or event, maybe pass on balloons and opt for one of the listed alternatives instead. And if you are not sure how you want to handle the balloon topic yet, get in touch with us and we’ll find a great eco-friendly approach for your next event together.

Colorful wishes to brighten up your day!

Kristin Sammann

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