All balloons return to earth – often times thousands of miles away from where they were released. Children may release a balloon on accident or in awe of its ability to “fly.” Adults also release them in celebration or in remembrance of a loved one. Whatever the reason, we must understand that what may seem like “no big deal” is wreaking havoc on our ecosystems and depleting a valuable resource.
Balloons kill wildlife – both land and marine species. We see a balloon; marine species see a jellyfish. All animals are at risk of ingesting stray balloons. The balloon blocks the animal’s digestive tract, leaving them unable to take in any more nutrients. The animal then slowly starves to death. They can also become entangled in the balloon and its ribbon, making the animal unable to move or eat.
Helium depletion is a real problem. It is a finite resource on earth and supply is not keeping up with demand. Helium is used in MRI scanners, fiber optics, sea/space exploration, welding, lasers, breathing ventilators, cooling nuclear reactors and many other essential functions in society.
What can you do? Take balloons out of the equation. Speak up if you are aware of a balloon release in your area and lead the initiative by your example. Do or suggest the following in lieu of balloons:
In remembrance of a loved one
- Plant a native tree, flower garden or butterfly garden to enjoy year after year
- Release a flower into a stream or pond
- Light a candle
- Paint a rock to be placed in a favorite spot
For a birthday celebration
- Use paper bunting, pompoms and other colorful items as decoration
To bring awareness to a cause
- Bring a large group of people together to create a shape, word or image. This can be very unifying and more beautiful than a balloon release.
- Light luminaries at night
- Use colored lights
- Participate in races, walks, organized games and marches – but keep the balloons out of these events!
Laura Kirkwood is a Project Manager Manager at HRSD, the organization that collects and treats wastewater across Hampton Roads. She is one of the nearly 800 employees that play a part in fulfilling HRSD’s vision that future generations will inherit clean waterways and be able to keep them clean.