Balloons as Litter: Impacts and Solutions
Is there such a thing as an "environmentally friendly" balloon release?
No. 100% of released balloons return to the earth (or the ocean) as litter.
Learn about the Virginia Balloon Litter Research Study (being conducted by Clean Virginia Waterways and the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center)
Learn about alternative ways to celebrate that don't create litter.
If you know of a group that is planning to release balloons:
Please contact them and refer them to this website. Encourage them to plant a tree or do something positive for our Earth to celebrate their event instead of releasing balloons.
Virginia's law against the mass release of balloons is in Title 29 of the Code of Virginia, enforced by local law enforcement and prosecuted by local Commonwealth’s Attorney. So, if you know of any plans to release a large number of balloons into the air, notify local law enforcement. Be sure to quote the Code section...they may not be familiar with it. Click here for the complete text of this law.
How long are latex balloons dangerous to wildlife after they enter the ocean?
"Latex rubber balloons are an important category of product in the marine environment. Promotional releases of balloons that descend into the sea pose a serious ingestion and/or entanglement hazard to marine animals. Based on the fairly rapid disintegration of balloons on exposure to sunlight in air, the expectation is that balloons do not pose a particularly significant problem. In an experiment we carried out in North Carolina we observed that balloons exposed floating in seawater deteriorated much slower than those exposed in air, and even after 12 months of exposure still retained their elasticity."
From the article: Plastics and Their Impacts in the Marine Environment by Anthony L. Andrady, Program Manager and Senior Research Scientist, Chemistry and Life Sciences Division, Research Triangle Institute, North Carolina. Proceedings of the International Marine Debris Conference on Derelict Fishing Gear and the Ocean Environment, August 6-11, 2000 Hawai'i Convention Center Honolulu, Hawai'i
The ribbons on balloons contribute to animal entanglement. Photo courtesy of Ocean Conservancy.
What you can do:
Never release a balloon into the air.
Watch your local car dealerships to see if they cut balloons off of cars at the end of a business day. If this is happening, please ask to speak to the car dealership's manager, and inform them of the problems balloons and ribbons create when they are littered into the environment. Encourage the dealership to be good neighbors, and good stewards of our environment. If balloons continue to be cut off of cars, consider writing a letter to the editor of your local paper, or ask your friends to help contact the dealership.
Encourage companies and political candidates to use an alternative form of advertising. If you hear of a planned mass balloon release, contact the event organizer to explain the potential harmful consequence of which they are often unaware, and persuade them to reconsider.
Community groups sometimes release balloons to mark special occasions. Again, you can encourage alternative ways to celebrate community events—maybe planting a tree!
Pick up any balloons or ribbons you find, and dispose of them properly.
Learn More: The Marine Conservation Society in the United Kingdom has more information on the problems that balloons can cause when they enter the world's ocean. They also have a factsheet, an Action Packet, and downloads with "Don't Let Go" posters and leaflets.
LAWS and REGULATIONS
The mass release of balloons is illegal in several states and cities, including Virginia. Click here for a list of jurisdictions that have laws in effect dealing with balloon releases, and sample legislation.