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Are latex balloons biodegradable?

Balloons have become a contentious topic - and rightly so! They're the quintessential party decoration and they're a universal symbol for celebration - but they're also rated in the top three most harmful pollutants threatening marine wildlife by both the CSIRO and Ocean Conservancy.


Image courtesy of Ocean Conservancy 

Every day helium-filled balloons are released or accidentally escape from outdoor events. They can travel hundreds of kilometres over land and sea to end up in waterways or the ocean where they pose a threat to wildlife. 

Disintegrating balloons closely resemble jellyfish, so both marine and terrestrial animals can easily mistake balloons for food. Once ingested, balloons can cause stomach or intestinal blockages that can cause animals to choke or starve. Balloon ribbon-attachments can be just as dangerous: marine animals can become entangled and unable to swim or feed properly, causing them to eventually starve or drown.  

Image courtesy of rubberjellyfishmovie.com 

As more and more people are becoming eco-conscious - with signs of climate change now all too clear to see - there's a growing awareness of the environmental problem posed by balloons.

But many people are confused about whether latex balloons are biodegradable and therefore an eco-safe or eco-friendlier balloon type. 

Here's the simple answer: NO balloons are environmentally "safe" if released. 

Latex and mylar are the two most common balloon types. Mylar balloons are composed of synthetic nylon with an aluminium/metallic coating: they are entirely non-biodegradable and ill-advised.

Natural latex (from plants such as the rubber tree) is biodegradable - but latex balloons are manufactured with the addition of plastic, chemicals and dyes that take longer to break down. Decomposition of latex can take anywhere from six months to four years - giving it plenty of time to cause harm. 

A recent Australian study (published August 2020) showed that after 16 weeks in freshwater, saltwater and industrial compost conditions, latex balloons did not degrade, despite manufacturers assuring the public that balloons are ‘100% biodegradable’. 

Another Australian research paper highlighted that balloons and other soft plastic waste in oceans are 32 times more likely to kill seabirds than hard plastic waste. These and numerous other studies, papers and articles highlight that balloons are a ‘silent menace’ to the environment (as part of plastic waste) or to wildlife.
 

The fact is, no balloons are eco-friendly - but it’s the use of helium and letting them go that's particularly harmful. 

A lesser known environmental issue wth balloons is the wastage of helium. Although helium is the second most abundant element in the universe, it's relatively rare on Earth. It can't be manufactured or renewed. Helium is very important: it's used in MRI scanners, fiber optics, welding, cooling nuclear reactors, cryogenics, lasers, LCDs, rare document preservation, and breathing ventilators for infants. We need affordable helium for these products. Being a non-renewable resource, it's a waste to use helium to blow up balloons... and if helium ceased being wasted, balloons wouldn't be released and fly wayward. 

There are plenty of eco-friendly alternatives to balloons: decorations that can be reused or recycled, such as tissue paper pompoms, paper lanterns and reusable fabric buntings. Or consider investing in a bubble-making machine that can be used again and again! It’s super easy to make your own bubble solution to fill a bubble machine or refill little bubble bottles. 

Bubble recipe:

  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 4 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp of eco-friendly detergent

Simply dissolve the sugar in the water and add the detergent to create a perfect bubbly mix!

 
 

Image courtesy of Giu Vicente via Unsplash

Another option is to choose blooms instead of balloons! Flowers are a great alternative to balloons to decorate a space for a special occasion. And when they're done, they can just go into your compost or green waste bin.

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So latex balloons are not an "eco-friendly" balloon option... yet we sell them. Why? The way we see it, balloons are hugely popular and that’s not going to change unless and until we get the message out there and at the same time offer better alternatives. And it's the people who are buying balloons who need to hear that message. So we include this message on every balloon product page: Stray balloons pose a serious threat to marine wildlife so please don't let your balloons fly away. We also sell and promote a range of paper decorations that are equally fun and colourful... and better for our planet. 

 

© Written by Anika O. for The Good Party Co.

Main photo courtesy of Elnaz Asadi via Unsplash.

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