With people searching for a better, more environmentally-friendly alternative, “biodegradable balloons” looked to be the answer they were searching for. But are they really as safe for our wildlife as they claim to be?
For as long as most people can remember, balloons have been synonymous with celebrations. From birthdays to christenings to graduation ceremonies, if there was a party to be had then you can rest assured that brightly coloured balloons would be part of the decorations involved.
For many years now though, the tides have been turning against the use of these once happily displayed delights. The reason? Well, as the saying goes, what goes up must come down and with standard balloons being non-biodegradable, the happiness they provide for the short time they are in the air is turning into a lifetime of pain for our wildlife, waterways and oceans once they eventually come down.
Are biodegradable balloons environmentally friendly?
Biodegradable balloons are not environmentally friendly.
Sadly, although they are a much better idea then the classic rubber balloon, there is much talk about the fact that biodegradable latex balloons are not actually as environmentally-friendly as they claim to be.
Sure, the balloons are made from latex which in its natural form is known to break down over time, but they are not created with 100% latex. Instead biodegradable balloons are made with processed latex along with a number of preservatives, colour dyes, chemicals and plasticizers. Because of this, these latex balloons can actually take a lot longer to decompose than reported, with some tests showing it can take at least 6 years to break down. This is a far cry from the initial balloon-industry funded report that reported they broke down in 6 weeks (see below for more details on this).
Therefore, these balloons still pose a huge threat to our wildlife. Six years (or more) is plenty of time for land animals and marine life to find, ingest and be affected by this product. Attracted to the colours, may smaller animals can either choke and suffocate on the balloons if swallowed or it can get stuck in their digestive tract, which in most cases means they will starve to death. This is definitely not the outcome you would want from what started as a happy celebration.
What are Biodegradable Balloons?
Biodegradable balloons are made from latex, a 100% natural substance, that unlike plastic breaks down in sunlight and water. Sourced from Rubber Tree plantations, the latex is collected in buckets, as it drips from harmless cuts in the bark. The use of latex balloons and other products, such as surgical gloves, make rubber trees economically valuable, which discourages people from cutting them down and provides a valuable revenue to many third world countries.
Billed as being 100% biodegradable, based on a 1989 study, the balloons are widely sprouted as being able to break down at the same rate as an Oak Tree leaf – which is about 6 weeks (A long time). Sadly it’s not that simple because biodegradable balloons are not 100% latex and need to account for the chemicals, plasticizers and artificial dyes that lengthen the time it takes for a latex balloon to break down. If you want to see what actually happens when latex balloons are left to break down then you will probably be better served by the experiment conducted by the Conversation who conducted their own non-industry funded 16 week test.
Where to buy biodegradable balloons
Today, biodegradable balloons are widely sold by most party supply companies as their preferred, more environmentally-friendly alternative.
In Brisbane, you can purchase them from all the big name places such as Spotlight, Big W and Kmart – and really any other place that usually sells balloons. All you have to do is google ‘biodegradable balloons Brisbane’ and you will be presented with pages of places that sell a variety of different types and brands.
Eco friendly balloon alternatives
Whilst there can be no doubt that latex balloons are a better alternative to rubber ones, the fact is they can still take years to break down and are therefore not really safe for our environment. So, what alternatives are there if you are wanting to have a truly eco-friendly celebration?
Well the good news is there are many beautiful alternatives to balloons that are equally as effective and fun whilst not causing our future wildlife any danger. When you are planning your next big celebration, why not try one of these great decorative ideas?
- Flowers and plant garlands
- Light shows
- Paper banners and garlands (that can be recycled and used again)
- Hanging flower vases and garlands
- Paper lanterns
- Crocheted recyclable water balloons
- Coloured lights
- Natural confetti (birdseed, flower petals or rice).
- Painted stones
With so many other great and unique decoration ideas out there, it might be time to let the idea of balloons being the only way to style your event float away for good. Or at least be mindful of what you do with your balloons once the party is over?
Even if you do get biodegradable ones, maybe not filling them with helium (so less likely to fly away and at a great distance) and putting them into a bin when finished might be a good idea. No doubt your celebration will be memorable regardless what you choose to do, but the future of our wildlife may not be as lucky.