When you think of a birthday party and decorations for it, your mind automatically goes to balloons, they are a crowd pleaser at every event. Kids light up when they see balloons at their birthday, clowns hand them out at parades and carnivals, and they are used for pretty well any special occasion… have you wondered though, can these be biodegradable balloons? Is there even such a thing?
Balloons are a staple for any event you go to, you see them everywhere, but do you know how harmful they actually are for the environment and especially to the animals? Making the switch to biodegradable balloon alternatives will put your conscious at ease knowing that you’re not leaving behind little pieces of rubber, latex, or nylon fabric.
What are balloons?
Balloons are airtight bags filled with either hot air, helium, or hydrogen to rise and float in the atmosphere. Balloons have been around forever, they were used in the first successful human attempt at flying, blimps for advertisements at football games, and hot air balloon rides.
The first balloon was made in 1824 by Professor Michael Faraday to use in his experiments with hydrogen, from there balloons have been used for all kinds of things and made from all different kinds of materials. The military used balloons for communications, scientists used them for experiments with gravity, and of course the invention of the gas balloon which would ultimately turn into hot air balloon rides. Balloons have been around as far as anyone can remember so it’s no wonder that they don’t seem to be going anywhere soon.
What are balloons made of?
Balloons are commonly made from rubber, latex, and nylon materials that contain polymers, which can degrade the ecosystem. There are many kinds of balloons, the most popular being of course the classic rubber balloon, but there are also mylar balloons, which are made from a metal (foil) coated plastic like polyethylene. These balloon types are not environmentally friendly and as we all know, plastic is a driver for fossil fuels which further harms the environment.
Why are balloons bad for the environment?
The importance of switching to biodegradable balloons alternatives is crucial for the environment, latex undergoes the process of using heat and chemicals to cure the latex so that it can turn into rubber, this all uses an immense amount of energy which mostly comes from burning fossil fuels. Not only is the energy waste incredibly bad for the environment but often people do not dispose of balloons properly which end up in the stomachs of animals.
Balloons take approximately 450 years to decompose and most of the time end up in landfills, landfills secrete methane gas and leachate, leachate is a significant threat to surface and groundwater. Leachate is the result of precipitation entering the landfill from moisture that exists in the waste, this ultimately leaches into the soil and groundwater. This then formulates methane gas which as you may or may not know is a greenhouse gas and it contributes to global warming by trapping heat in our atmosphere.
How many animals are killed or hurt by balloons?
There are an estimated 100,000 marine mammals that die every year from plastic entanglement or ingestion, of this number nearly 5% of dead sea turtles had ingested latex balloons. Studies have shown that balloons and balloon pieces found on the beach have tripled in the past 10 years.
It’s not just marine life that is affected by balloons, birds, squirrels, and even cows have been killed by balloons and have had balloons blocking their digestive system. If you’ve ever taken your child to a fair or they’ve come home with a balloon, you know exactly how easy it is for them to become untied from your child’s wrist and float away in the wind. No one has a real idea where these balloons might end up or what bird might fly into them, this poses a major risk to our wildlife and is yet another reason why an eco-friendly balloon option is best.
What is a biodegradable balloon?
Although balloon makers will advertise biodegradable balloons… are they really? The packaging might say “100% natural latex rubber” which would lead a buyer to believe that the balloon would, in fact, break down in the environment with no adverse effects on the wildlife or environment. This is yet another way companies take advantage of people and use greenwashing to manipulate buyers into believing they care about the environment and their carbon footprint.
The natural latex rubber is made from latex sap but to form this sap additional chemicals are added, the chemicals include antioxidants and anti-fogging (to prevent a cloudy look), plasticizers (for flexibility), and preservatives (for longer shelf life), and of course dyes and pigments. When you look at the added chemicals in balloons, it is easy to make the decision to not use them, and now knowing that they are not as biodegradable as you think, it makes the choice even easier.
How long does a biodegradable balloon take to decompose?
When you think of biodegradable you think about how long that item will take to decompose, what the potential hazards remain still in that process, or if you can incorporate that item into your compost.
Balloon companies that are advertising biodegradable balloons market their product by saying the breakdown time is that of an oak leaf, however, the decomposition period is up to six years for balloons!!
So, while you’re waiting for this period to end, animals are still eating the balloon waste, sea turtle’s stomachs are still being clogged with latex waste, and the “biodegradable balloon” is still sitting in your compost bin hardly breaking down.
Do mylar balloons decompose?
The answer is a resounding no, mylar balloons will never biodegrade, these balloons are primarily made up of synthetic material, specifically synthetic nylon. This is not a sustainable fabric and like latex balloons, is full of preservatives and plasticizers causing it not to be eco-friendly. What makes these mylar balloons so harmful to the environment is ultimately the metal film the balloons are coated in; the metallic finish is a conductor for electricity and can cause power outages when they fly into powerline cables.
Are biodegradable water balloons biodegradable?
Water balloons are made from the same materials and chemicals as latex balloons, which makes them also faux-eco-friendly products and just another market ploy. There are other options out there for water balloons like Aqua balls which advertise the first reusable water balloon, but they don’t disclose what the balls are made of.
You can of course use other options like crochet reusable water balloons, they are often made from synthetic yarn such as polyester or acrylic which contain microplastics that shed into our water. To make sure you are getting the most eco-friendly material, try looking for crochet reusable water balloons that contain recycled fabric such as recycled nylon, or polyester. You can even make them yourselves and use eco-friendly yarn to substitute traditional yarn.
Eco-friendly Balloon Alternatives
There are a lot of great alternatives out there to use instead of balloons to celebrate your next event, you can have your cake and it eat too with these eco-friendly decoration options. Take a look below at the five alternatives that are sure to make not only an impression on your guests but also an impression on your carbon footprint and sustainable lifestyle.
1. Flying Wish Papers
Flying Wish Papers are a great option if you’re planning on doing a balloon release but are worried about hurting the wildlife and scared of where your balloons might end up. This allows you to write down a message on the wish paper and then light the paper and it will delicately float off in the sky leaving behind only a small amount of ash.
2. Crochet Water Balloons
As mentioned above you can easily make these cute little crochet water balloons that you can kick up a notch and ensure that your material is eco-friendly, such as organic cotton. These are great if you want to teach your younger children a new skill too because you can make them together and have the joy of using them afterward. I think that’s a win-win in my books!
Pompoms are a great alternative to balloons, you can use paper, fabric that can be upcycled, or even compostable tissue paper. This is an awesome substitute that does not waste helium and can be recycled after or stored for further uses as opposed to a one-time thing. I think making something goes a long way in showing someone how much they mean to you and how you value them.
4. Natural Decorations
If you have a green thumb you can have plants put in painted pots, dry out flowers, and put flowers from your garden in vases. This is a great way to bring biodiversity to your next party! Not only will this smell amazing and add natural color to your special occasion, but you can keep the plants, gift them to people invited, or even leave them with the person you are celebrating. It’s truly the greatest way to decorate because it's décor and a gift all in one!
5. Fabric Decorations
This is a chance to recycle those old fabrics from your bras, jeans, and any other old fabrics you might have taking up room that you can use for decorations. From banners to flags, even lettering, you can use any fabrics you might have to create something special! This is a unique way to not only recycle some old stuff but also swap out those pesky balloons for something more eco-friendly!
A final word on biodegradable balloons
Although advertised as “biodegradable balloons” they are actually not, the chemicals and preservatives in the balloons make them just as bad as regular balloons. Unfortunately, companies often use greenwashing to continue to generate business and appear to care about the environment when they have done little to make changes to reduce their carbon footprint.
At your next celebration give sustainable decorations a try! If you’ve used or made any of the ideas off the list, please let me know below in the comments, I love hearing from all my wonderful readers. Feel free also to give this article a share, your support means the world to me!