This section discusses the environmental impact of balloons on our environment, particularly the balloons used by Designer wAIR. It is to be noted that the balloons used at Designer wAIR for its products are those of the latex variety not the Mylar (foil) variety which have a larger impact on the environment.
When we were composing this page we were initially going to take the content from an organisation that represents balloon artists, however after reading their information we felt that it appeared a little biased toward the balloons, often with little evidence or even denial of evidence to the contrary. Other sites have been found to be biased the other way and provided evidence that has also not been varified independently. At Designer wAIR we wanted to make our information as non-biased as possible, even though we obviously have a vested interest in balloon production, but we are also environmentally aware. To this end we have tried to provide un-biased information with some evidence, some of which has been investigated ourselves and some from sources we trust. Based on this information we ask you to make up your own mind. In many parts we will compare latex balloons to the likes of paper and other products, although we know there are environmental differences, in many cases they have the same impact.
Are Balloons Biodegradable?
The short answer is yes. Balloons used for this type of work are made from latex, which is a natural product and it goes through no special processing to manufacture balloons.
It is said that latex balloons take around the same time as an oak leaf. We cannot state whether this is true or false but as balloon modellers for that last 20 years we can state that we have always put unwanted balloons in the compost and they have always decomposed.
This does not mean though that we agree with balloons being released into the environment no matter how biodregradable they are. Paper such as that on magazines is also biodegradable, but we dont want it all over the countryside. There is also the issue of pigments used to dye the balloons, and again like magazines this may be an unnatural chemical but in general, causes no known harm, perhaps due to small quantities, but will not affect the decomposition and does not produce significant risk when composted.
Are Balloons Dangerous to Wildlife?
The short answer here is yes. We have heard arguments on both side of this and they both have merits. Firstly one side says that balloons have been swallowed by animals including sea life. The other side says that none of this has been confirmed and they know people who work with sea life and have not seen any.
Those for balloons pose the question of whether you have yourself seen balloons on the beach etc. as evidence that there is no risk. So there is a lot of controversy surrounding this issue, so how do we stand?
Balloons are realeased into the environment, often from accidental release when a child lets them go or more significantly from balloon releases as competitions or fund raising events. The fact is, they don't just dissappear, they have to land somewhere.
They very rarely burst as they tend to fly upwards until the helium within depletes enough for them to descend and eventually we get half inflated balloons or uninflated balloons back on earth. They can land in the sea or on land and this is all common sense you don't need any evidence to prove it.
When they land they will eventually decompose, however even if this only took a couple of weeks, (in the oak leaf case it is more like years than weeks) these items could be ingested by an animal. Whether any have or not is subject to debate but the point is, they could.
Interestingly, as balloon modellers, we are told not to leave balloons aspecially uninflated ones around small children as they are a choking hazard, logic would then tell us that they too present a choking hazard to animals.
Here at Designer wAIR we also scuba dive and on many dives we have seen plastic bags , bottles and plastic cups strewn all over the ocean floor but never balloons. This may be because although they may be present they are in such small amounts or it may be that they have been eaten by animals, we believe the former rather than the latter, but you can make your own mind up. Just because we have not seen them does not mean they don't exist but they are probably in a minority compared to plastic bags and bottles. Claiming that it is fine to release balloons into the environment as they are a natural product is, in our opinion, wrong. Crude oil is also a natural product but we don't want it spread all over our environment.
Balloons are a natural product and fun too. They will decompose in a compost heap and in the environment, however, they do pose a threat to wildlife. There are many other items in a larger quantities in the environment that pose a threat to wildlife so balloons are not a major threat. We should not have balloons loose in the countryside or oceans, just as with any other litter so we must dispose of them carefully. When you have finished with balloons, dispose of them responsibly, such as composting them, which is preferable to sending them to landfill. Don't just let them go and try to make sure they are not left loose enough for children to let them go easily. The ones we use in Designer wAIR, by the nature of their use are unlikely to just end up floating around the environment so help this by careful disposal after use. In case you are interested, we don't agree with balloon releases, as there are much better ways to raise money with balloons.