Nice and colorful, symbols of festive occasions and important celebrations. They are the balloons, much loved and sought-after, yet about them someone is playing defense. What now has become a tradition for the festivities it would also seem to be a potent threat to the ecosystem.
After having soared and have traveled the skies, here they are in fact falling back to earth, making their way back and becoming at the same time polluting material being made (at least most) in latex, a material that requires from 6 months to 4 years for decomposition. In addition, both marine and terrestrial animals frequently mistake deflated balloons as food. Once ingested, balloons can cause stomach or intestinal blockages, eventually leading to starvation. Also, helium that drives them to rise to the top, although it is the second most abundant element in the universe, it is relatively rare on Earth. It cannot be manufactured, and once it’s released into the atmosphere, it quickly escapes into space making impossible to reuse it for other implications such as cooling nuclear reactors or document preservation.
It’s not the first time that someone argues on this point and it’s not the only 'innocent' habit which actually conceals threats to the environment: among others there are also fireworks (sources of air pollution due to the residues released into the air and propellants) and flying lanterns (often responsible for fires and characterized by a very long decomposition process). But concerning the balloons or rather, the plastic with which they are made, the first to show the negative effects of their use were the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) in Australia and the British Imperial College from London. According to their estimates, more than 90% of seabirds has ingested plastic of various type and origin, and it’s expected that, by 2050, the percentage will reach 99%. Fears, however, regarding the balloons, can be resized: the latter represents only a negligible percentage with respect to the remaining amount of plastic (bags, bottles and caps) that are dispersed into the environment every day.
What to do then? Suggestions? Impossible to deny a balloon to a child (unless helium does not become in a short time an element endangered), but in case of big events and celebrations it would be ideal to opt for more environmentally friendly alternatives like the flowers petals or simple candles. Other good habits: choose decorations that can be reused or engage in a do-it-yourself home to which even the youngest can join.