Course:CONS200/2023/Stop releasing balloons: How balloon releases are harming the ecosystem?

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1. Introduction

People release balloons as a way of celebration.

Helium balloons are a party staple; thin layers of latex filled with a gas to make them float for temporary colourful shows of whimsy, usually either weighed down and floating free, or released en masse as a grand celebration. The kicker however, is the temporary aspect of them; where do they go when the celebration is finished? As helium balloons float up into the sky, many might think the immediate short term adage of out of sight out of mind, however what goes up must then come down, and helium balloons tend to have an unpredictable nature to them. The latex that balloons are made up of are not biodegradable, so where they land is where they stay to either pollute the local environment, or harm the wildlife of the area in a variety of ways.

2. Nature of the Problem

Balloons, not being biodegradable, have the opportunity to continuously deposit microplastics into both the soil and the water of the location they land, which might have an unknown yet unstudied thoroughly long term effect on the surrounding soil and water[1]. Microplastics have the opportunity to accumulate on both their consumption, but also up the food chain[2]. This is especially true in marine environments, in which latex balloons not only take longer to decompose, but at times even gain more mass and might intake the odour of the ocean, possibly becoming more enticing for organisms to consume[3]. Latex balloon litter in the ocean reaches all corners and types of habitats from shorelines and coral reefs to the deep ocean floor[4].

Latex balloons can be harmful to the local organisms in a variety of ways, such as causing harm physically via ingestion or constriction; through habitat degradation; as a parcel for pathogens; or chemically, again via consumption by animals or as the balloons degrade[4].

2.1. Dispersal

The unpredictable nature of helium balloons post-release can be seen in a large variety of ecosystems such as in a desert having little to no correlation with proximity to the road, and being found all through the area[1]. Currents in both the wind and water can greatly influence the dispersal of trash - both tend to greatly extend the potential reach of anthropogenic litter, allowing litter to reach areas deemed protected, creating risk for the reasons that the area is protected in the first place - be it endangered organisms or perhaps even an area protected for our own benefit such as a freshwater source. A study conducted in the Mojave desert found balloons in a critical habitat originating from over 270 kilometres away.[5] In the location of the study, 7.6 kilometres from the nearest house, and 40 kilometres from the nearest major city, 170 balloons accumulated between March and November of 2005.[5] Currents tend to also deposit litter in large clumps, potentially creating hazards should the balloons be deposited in the location of a precious resource such as a watering hole, increasing the incident rate of any fauna coming into contact with the balloons[1].

2.2. Animal Impact

The desert tortoise within the Mojave desert in particular is vulnerable - balloons dispersed by currents can potentially get intertwined with vegetation that the tortoise consumes and caught within its digestive system. [5] One instance of a tortoise encounter with a balloon involved the loss of a leg after having it entangled in the balloon string.[5]

According to researchers from the University of Tasmania, rather than hard plastics, it is soft plastics like balloons that are the most harmful when ingested; becoming the number one fatality of seabirds, making up 40 percent of mortalities despite being only 5 percent of items that were consumed during the study.[6] It is estimated that 99 percent of seabird species will ingest marine litter by 2050. [6]During their study, the researchers discovered that many of the balloons were predominantly ingested by species that hunt squid, likely due to the resemblance.[6]

3. Current Remedial Action

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the environmental harm caused by the release of helium-filled balloons. Across various regions, governments, environmental organizations, and individuals have taken actions to address this issue. These actions include implementing legislation and fines, conducting beach cleanups, promoting sustainable alternatives, and raising public awareness. While there has been some progress in preventing and repairing the harm caused by balloon releases, there is still a long way to go before such releases are completely banned.

3.1. Australia

In July of 2021, the Australian province of Victoria became the first state in the country to ban the release of helium-filled balloons, citing the harm caused to wildlife and the environment.

The ban applies to both personal and commercial releases, and those who breach the law may be fined from $991 AUD up to $82,610 AUD, depending on the severity. [7]

In addition to the ban, the Victorian government has also provided guidelines on how to dispose of balloons properly, the current suggestions are as follows:

“Avoid using balloons outdoors. If this is unavoidable, make sure the balloons are well secured while in use. When finished with the balloon, deflate and dispose of all items, including balloon clips and ribbons, in the rubbish bin.” [8]

The move in Victoria inspired other Australian provinces to follow suit. In January of 2022, the province of Western Australia announced its own ban on helium balloon releases, condemning the use of Balloons at all, explaining that there are many alternatives to balloons that are better for the environment and prevent plastic waste going to landfills. [9] The ban applies to all balloons made of any type of plastic, even those made from compostable, biodegradable and degradable plastics.

There is a penalty fine of $5000 AUD for individuals or organizations who break the law and release gas filled balloons outdoors. [10]

3.2. North America

Hawaii's statewide law banning the intentional release of balloons, which went into effect in January of 2023, is by far the most strongest measure regarding this issue in the United States.  [11]

In 2021, The state of Maryland banned intentional mass balloon releases. In Maryland's case, violating this legislation is punishable by a fine of up to $100, with each act constituting a separate violation, and enforced by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). [12]

3.3 Non-Governmental Action

Non-governmental action against balloon pollution has played a crucial role in raising awareness, promoting sustainable alternatives, and conducting clean-up efforts. Environmental organizations, grassroots movements, and concerned citizens have taken various actions to address the issue of balloon pollution, contributing to a growing movement to ban or limit balloon releases.

One significant example of non-governmental action is the Balloons Blow nonprofit organization. This nonprofit organization aims to raise awareness about the negative impacts of balloon releases on wildlife and the environment, and to encourage individuals and organizations to "make the promise" to never let balloons go.[13] As part of this campaign, the organization has created educational materials, such as videos and posters, highlighting the environmental harm caused by balloon pollution. Additionally, the campaign encourages individuals to take a pledge never to release balloons, and to educate others about the issue.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is a leading marine charity based in England dedicated to protecting and preserving the marine environment through research, education, and advocacy. They launched the "Don't Let Go" campaign in 2015 in response to the increasing amount of balloon litter found on beaches and in the ocean. The campaign focuses on educating the public about the negative impacts of balloon releases on marine wildlife, particularly sea turtles and seabirds, which can mistake balloons for food or become entangled in them. MCS highlights the environmental harm caused by balloon releases and promotes alternative ways of celebrating events and holding memorials, such as paper decorations or lighting candles. [14]

In addition to raising awareness, non-governmental organizations have also taken action to conduct clean-up efforts to address the harm caused by balloon pollution. For example, the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup includes the collection of balloons and other marine debris, which are then analyzed to identify their source. [15]This data is used to inform policy decisions and to raise public awareness about the issue of balloon pollution.

Non-governmental action against balloon pollution has also contributed to developing safe balloon use. For example, the Balloon Council, a balloon industry trade association, has launched a "#BeBalloonSmart" pledge program to promote responsible balloon use and disposal.[16]

As part of this program, the Balloon Council strongly stands against releasing balloons into the air. They express that balloons should “be weighted, not released outdoors, and disposed of properly when broken or deflated.” [17]

Overall, non-governmental action against balloon pollution has significantly raised awareness, promoted sustainable alternatives, and conducted clean-up efforts.

4. Options for Future Remedial Action

Researchers suggest that we can reduce the negative impacts of balloons on the ecosystem by making balloons with materials that will degrade fast [18]. Researchers also suggest that we reduce the number of balloon releases and replace harmful components with eco-friendly ones [18]. There are mainly three options for future remedial action.

4.1. Changing the Material of Balloon Skin

First, it is suggested by researchers that we change the material of the balloon skin to vegetable-based starch products [18]. Many balloons today are made from a material called latex [19]. Latex is the milky sap obtained from the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis [19]. This sap thickens and becomes solid once it is exposed to the air [19]. Latex itself is biodegradable since it is a natural product, but its molecular structure is often modified and extra substances are added in the process of turning latex into commercial products like balloons, which makes it take a long time to decompose [20][21]. During the long period of time that balloons are being decomposed, they pose threat to the environment; shredded latex resembles marine organisms such as jellyfish or squid, so it might be mistaken as food and consumed by other marine organisms [22]. To reduce the risk of accidental consumption of balloons by marine organisms, it is important to use an alternative material to latex that would decompose quickly before marine organisms accidentally consume it. Information about the viability of vegetable-based balloons was not found in academic papers, thus the viability of changing the material of balloon skin to an easily biodegradable one is unknown. More research and experiments need to be done to enable balloon-making with vegetable-based starch materials.

4.2. Using a natural colourant

The bark of sappanwood produces a pink-red-coloured natural dye.

The second possible solution to mitigate the negative impacts of balloons on the environment would be to use natural colourants. Balloons dyed with non-natural colourant would be harmful to the ecosystem, but fortunately, there is an alternative; a study published recently showed that the dye made from sappanwood, wood from an evergreen tree[23], can be used as a natural colourant for balloons [24]. Researchers who conducted this study succeeded in producing sappanwood lake pigment by soaking bits of sappanwood in methanol, obtaining extract through evaporation, letting the extract cool down to make it solid, putting the solid extract in a liquid composed of methanol and water to create sappanwood solutions, and adding aluminum hydroxide for adsorption [24]. Pink-red lake pigment obtained from sappanwood blended well into rubber balloons without affecting their quality of balloons [24]. Sappanwood is characterized by good biodegradability and harmlessness [25], so it is highly environmentally friendly. The study did not mention anything about the cost of making sappanwood colourant, so further research needs to be conducted on the cost, to know whether or not the sappanwood colourant is easily accessible. Other than sappanwood, there are many different plants from which we can extract colours [26], so it is possible that other natural dyes could also be used as colourants for balloons. Reducing the negative impacts of balloons is viable with the use of natural dyes such as sappanwood, but whether or not sappanwood colorant is easily accessible in terms of cost is unknown.

4.3. Reducing the number of balloon releases

It is also possible to simply reduce the number of balloon releases by using alternatives to balloons. For example, people could use atmospheric profilers as an alternative to weather balloons since they can serve the function of weather balloons [18]. This solution is viable since there are organizations that have successfully measured wind and temperature through the use of atmospheric profilers such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organisation (NOAO) [18]. For toy balloons, some people suggest the use of kites or eco-friendly bubbles as alternatives as these can also provide the excitements that balloons offer [27]. Since there are alternatives that can fulfill the purposes of weather balloons and toy balloons[27], reducing the number of balloon releases is possible.


Despite being a staple in many celebrations and events, balloon releases have a significant negative impact on the environment. When released, balloons are easily carried along water or air currents and end up deposited all over the globe[1]. Many balloons end up in concentrated areas, but regardless, they pose a great threat to any fauna in the area[1]. Most helium balloons are made of latex and are non-biodegradable, meaning that they contribute a great deal of microplastics into the ecosystem[1]. Said microplastics are accidentally taken-up by plants or ingested by animals and build up as they move up the food chain[2]. This is a large concern because microplastics cause numerous issues for organisms either by damaging their habitats or by creating physical, chemical, or pathogenic problems upon ingestion[4].

Currently, most action taken against the harm created by released balloons in the form of legislation, organised clean-ups, and awareness campaigns. These actions are usually enacted by governments, environmental organisations, or individuals. In Australia, for example, the province of Victoria banned the release of helium balloons in 2021. This legislation applies to both commercial and personal releases, and any violations are punishable by fines that vary in amount by the severiity of the violation[7]. Victoria has also created a set of guidelines for the proper disposal of the balloons[8]. These movements have further inspired other parts of Australia to follow this path and create their own legislation against helium balloon releases. Various parts of North America also have legislation in place; most notably Maryland in 2021[12] and Hawaii in January of 2023[11]. However, legislation is primarily a method of deterring balloons from getting out into the environment in the first place. While government action is necessary to enforce legislation, non-governmental organizations and concerned citizens have been instrumental in advocating for change and driving progress toward a future free from balloon pollution. Continued efforts from all sectors are needed to ensure that balloon releases are no longer a threat to the environment and that sustainable alternatives are widely adopted.

There are, however, several steps that can be taken going forward, that will help reduce the risk posed to the ecosystem by latex balloons. The main options include making balloons out of biodegradable materials, replacing harmful components such as colourants, and reducing the number of balloon releases. Several researchers have proposed that balloons be made of vegetable-based starch products instead of latex[18][19] which would decompose much faster and thus cause less harm. There is, however, no concrete evidence to demonstrate the actual viability of this method. Replacing the current colourant in balloons with a natural one made from semething like sappanwood[23][24] to prevent the possibility of harmful chemicals leaching from the balloons and into the environment. Another important strategy for the reduction of balloons in the environment is simply to reduce the number of releases by finding something to replace them. For example, kites or eco-friendly bubbles could achieve similar effects.


Please use the Wikipedia reference style. Provide a citation for every sentence, statement, thought, or bit of data not your own, giving the author, year, AND page. For dictionary references for English-language terms, I strongly recommend you use the Oxford English Dictionary. You can reference foreign-language sources but please also provide translations into English in the reference list.

Note: Before writing your wiki article on the UBC Wiki, it may be helpful to review the tips in Wikipedia: Writing better articles.[28]

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  3. Gilmour, Morgan; Lavers, Jennifer (February 5 2021). "Latex balloons do not degrade uniformly in freshwater, marine and composting environments". Journal of Hazardous Materials. 403. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Rochman, Chelsea M.; Anthony Browne, Mark; Underwood, A. J.; van Freneker, Jan A.; Thompson, Richard C.; Amaral-Zettler, Linda A. (March 2016). "The ecological impacts of marine debris: unraveling the demonstrated evidence from what is perceived". Concepts & Synthesis. 97: 302–312.
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  11. 11.0 11.1 "Act 141".
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Intentional Balloon Releases Banned in Maryland".
  13. "MAKE THE PROMISE!". Balloons Blow.
  14. "Don't Let Go". Marine Conservation Society.
  15. "Fighting for Trash Free Seas". Ocean Conservancy.
  16. Flynn, Dan. "Welcome to the Balloon Council". Balloon HQ. Retrieved 14/04/2023. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  17. "The Balloon Council motto" (PDF). Balloons Lift Up.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 18.5 O’Shea, Owen; Hamann, Mark; Smith, Walter; Taylor, Heidi (January 2014). "Predictable pollution: An assessment of weather balloons and associated impacts on the marine environment - An example for the Great Barrier Reed, Australia". Marine Pollution Bulletin. 79: 61–68.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 Science World (n.d.). "Balloons". Retrieved Apr 13 2023. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  20. Chengalroyen, M. D.; Dabbs, E. R. (March 29 2013). "The microbial degradation of all dyes: minireview". World J Microbiol Biotechnol. 29: 389–399. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  21. Berekaa, Mahmoud M.; Linos, Alexandros; Reichelt, Rudolf; Keller, Ulrike; Steinbüchel, Alexander (March 15 2000). "Effect of pretreatment of rubber material on its biodegradability by various rubber degrading bacteria". FEMS Microbiology Letters. 184: 199–206. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  22. Whiting, Scott D. (November 1998). "Types and sources of marine debris in Fog Bay, Northern Australia". Marine Pollution Bulletin. 36: 904–910.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Liu, Songqi; Han, Xue; Yang, Keying; Cui, Yongzhu (July 4 2011). "Study on Extracting of Sappanwood Natural Dye by Cellulase". Advanced Materials Research. 287-290: 2697–2700. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 Sirirak, Jitnapa; Suppharatthanya, Ployphat; Chantha, Kedsarin; Girdthep, Sutinee; Chayabutra, Supanee (June 27 2021). "Eco-friendly lake pigment from sappanwood: Adsorption study and its application as natural colorant for natural rubber toy balloon". Journal of Metals, Materials and Minerals. 31: 27–37. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  25. Liu, Song Qi; Han, Xue; Yang, Ke Ying; Cui, Yong Zhu (July 2011). "Study on extracting of sappanwood natural dye by cellulase". Advanced Materials Research. 287-290: 2697–2700.
  26. Shahid, Mohammad; Shahid-ul-Islam; Mohammad, Faqeer (August 15 2013). "Recent advancements in natural dye applications: a review". Journal of Cleaner Production. 53: 310–331. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  27. 27.0 27.1 Byron, Benjamin (April 13 2023). "6 Eco-Friendly Balloon Alternatives (+Why They're Better)". Check date values in: |date= (help)
  28. (2018). Writing better articles. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jan. 2018].

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
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