Preventballoonlitter.org maintains that there is no such thing as an environmentally-friendly balloon release. 100% of released balloons return to Earth or to the Ocean as litter. However, the balloon industry in the United States (represented by The Balloon Council) has taken a different position.
Formed in 1990 in response to legislative attempts to ban balloon releases, The Balloon Council maintains that the impacts of balloon litter on the environment are minimal, that balloon release bans harm small businesses, and that latex balloons are not harmful to wildlife. When fighting a balloon release ban in New Jersey, a lawyer representing The Balloon Council said, “…the notion that balloon fragments often are responsible for killing water-dwelling creatures is an ‘urban myth.’” Another spokesperson for the balloon industry said, “No business and no balloon retailer wants to contribute to the harm of any creature, but to say it’s a hazard, we think that’s way overblown.” In a recent article (2018) regarding balloon release bans in New Jersey, The Balloon Council stated “…the threat to wildlife has been blown out of proportion. Although latex balloons can be found tangled in trees or litter beaches, they have not risen to the level of common debris like bottles and cans…” and that bans on balloon releases “…are a threat to a lot of mom and pop businesses in the balloon industry.”
The balloon industry claims that latex balloons are not harmful because they are biodegradable. They often cite a 1989 paper (written by a salesman from the balloon industry) that “… a latex balloon will degrade at the same rate as an oak leaf…”
But how long does it actually take an oak leaf to break down? Not only do oak leaves decompose more slowly than most other types of leaves but composting experts say that an oak leaf will take two or more years to break down. Balloons Blow conducted an experiment in which two littered latex balloons were placed outside to determine the time frame of biodegradability. As of September 2018, the balloons had not yet fully degraded after more than six years.
Also, Anthony L. Andrady, PhD, a Senior Research Scientist in the Chemistry and Life Sciences, Engineering and Technology Division, Research Triangle Institute, in Durham, North Carolina stated:
“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.”
Instead of legal restrictions on the mass release of balloons, The Balloon Council calls for educating retailers and consumers. The Balloon Council suggests that only latex balloons be used in mass releases, and that they should all be “hand-tied, with no tails (ribbon, string, etc.).” The Balloon Council created a program called “Responsible Balloon Retailer” to “…educate and promote FUN use of balloons in RESPECT to the environment.” This program suggests balloon retailers follow several guidelines when selling balloons. The guidelines are shown below. They also have a Smart Balloon Practices campaign that encourages consumers to never release foil balloons, keep balloons attached to a weight, supervise young children with balloons and dispose of balloons properly.
The balloon industry is taking steps to reduce releases of balloons, especially those made of foil and those with attachments. However, mass releases of latex balloons are still considered acceptable by the balloon industry. This may give the general public the idea that if a mass release is acceptable by industry standards, any release is acceptable. Preventballoonlitter.org encourages the balloon industry to continue their consumer and retailer education efforts but perhaps more aggressively, in a manner that will ultimately reach more consumers to prevent intentional and accidental releases of all types of balloons.
There are several balloon industry supported organizations around the world. Here are links to a few:
The Balloon Council
The Balloon Council/Balloon HQ
European Balloon & Party Council
National Association of Balloon Artists and Supplier
Pro Environment Balloon Alliance