Types of Balloons

A latex balloon with plastic ribbon.

Latex balloons are made with the sap from a rubber tree. During the manufacturing process many chemicals are added to raw rubber including pigments, oils, curing agents and accelerators. While natural latex balloons are considered biodegradable by some, it has been argued that latex balloons take several years to biodegrade.

According to the study, “Balloon Litter on Virginia’s Remote Beaches,” 56% of all balloons  recorded were latex.


A foil balloon

Foil balloons are often incorrectly referred to as Mylar balloons (“Mylar” is actually a brand name for a special type of polyester film). Foil or metallic balloons are made of plastic (nylon) sheets coated with polyethylene and metallic materials that are sealed together with heat. These metallic inks and paints flake off when exposed to environmental factors,  leaving a clear plastic balloon. Over time, foil balloons break up into smaller pieces of plastic but are not biodegradable.


Weather balloon (NOAA Image)

Weather balloons are used to collect atmospheric data. These balloons are made of latex and are attached to an instrument box called a radiosonde. Filled with helium or hydrogen, weather balloons can expand from 6 to 20 feet across and reach elevations of 20 miles above the Earth’s surface. Weather balloons are known to drift more than 125 miles from their point of release. Eventually, these balloons burst and fall back to Earth. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service, more than 75,000 helium-filled
weather balloons are released each year from 92 sites throughout the United States and its territories. Most of these facilities release two weather balloons per day every day of the year.


Balloon Litter on Virginia’s Remote Beaches