Balloon release and sky lanterns are a familiar site at festivals, weddings, and memorials. But what goes up, must come down. After guests disperse and other decorations have been packed away, the balloons and lantern frames that created a few moments of happiness can litter the surrounding area for years and even decades. Balloons, sky lanterns, and plastic confetti are never biodegradable. They break into smaller and smaller pieces until they turn into microplastics, which are consumed by fish, birds, turtles and other wildlife.
More than 270 experts recently rated balloons as one of the major threats to marine mammals, seabirds, and turtles, and the University of Tasmania ranked balloons as the number one risk of death for seabirds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has even posted disturbing images to their website urging people to stop releasing balloons because of the devastating consequences to animals. “Degradable balloons are not the solution” according to Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands, the latex-based products take up to four years to start to decompose.
What’s the Harm Releasing Balloons?
Balloon releases are controversial because balloons create litter and can hurt and kill wildlife. Balloons are also considered a wasteful use of helium. I don’t want to be a killjoy so I am asking the public to be sympathetic when using balloons, considering the concept of reducing, reusing, and recycling. Cumulatively small behavior changes can make a positive impact on our planet.
In some locations, launching a balloon release is considered illegal. In the United States, Connecticut, and Florida prohibit the release of more than 10 balloons in an hour in any one location. Virginia allows up to 50 released balloons. Tennessee, Texas, California, Massachusetts, New York, and Maryland are among the states that have laws regarding the release of balloons. Queensland and New South Wales in Australia, Wales, and other areas of the UK also have balloon release regulations.
Sending lanterns aloft or releasing colorful balloons are a symbolic way to memorialize a loved one. But when you think about it, these activities are basically littering. It’s worth asking, is that a respectful way to honor someone? While it can be hard to break with tradition, there are plenty of eco-friendly alternatives to balloon releases and sky lanterns. Here are a few of our favorite ways to celebrate that won’t endanger animals or local communities.
How to Make Your Balloon Release Friendly to Wildlife and the Environment
If you decide to have a balloon release, consider these options.
- Try to find and use fully biodegradable balloons.
- Make sure balloons are air-filled.
- Hand-tie the balloons.
- Do not use plastic disks, attachments, or ribbon or string. Even biodegradable cotton string and thin raffia ribbon can still get tangled up in trees and utility lines and harm wildlife.
Popular Balloon Release Alternatives
Consider having a virtual balloon release online with your family and friends.
Make a bubble solution so you can blow bubbles and let the breeze carry them skyward. You can also make giant bubbles and frost patterns in bubbles in the winter. Blowing bubbles also requires you to exhale and breathe. This is a great way to release your feelings as well and just let go.
Float your loved one’s favorite flowers or petals down a stream. This is a wonderful alternative as there is no harm to wildlife what-so-ever. Flowers are natures balloons.
I am not talking about purchasing plastic confetti here. Leaves, flowers, and a hole punch can make the perfect natural confetti. Therefore no harm to be done!
You can purchase or make your own pinwheels. A pinwheel can be a reminder of the constancy of the eternal human spirit that resides in each of us – as the wind blows, the pinwheel becomes animated again and begins to move, thus evoking the idea of the spirit.
Representing changes and new beginnings, the release of butterflies can give you a visual experience of letting go. You do need to make sure you are careful in handling the butterflies and that you only release the type of butterflies that can survive in your local habitats.
Although beautiful in its symbolism, a release of doves is a choice that requires the use of a professional release service that uses trained doves.
Transform an unwanted space
Vacant lots, roundabouts and verges could use a little of your love. Watch new life grow from between the cracks! Even better, use recycled materials in the new space.
Plant a tree or flowers
Planting a tree creates a symbolic, long-lasting and eco-friendly memorial that honors your loved one and the earth. A painted rock left in a favorite place is an eco-friendly option for people without a place to plant.
The ideas above are just a few ways to enhance a wedding, memorial, or another event without creating an environmental hazard. Help me spread the word about these environmentally-friendly alternatives, and let me know about other ways you like to celebrate!
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