Sources of Balloon Litter

While releasing helium-filled balloons into the air is sometimes accidental, it is often pre-planned.  Schools, associations, businesses, families, community groups

and sport venues across the globe purchase mass quantities of helium-filled latex and/or foil balloons, transport them to a selected site, and then release them into the air. These mass releases of balloons are conducted as part of:

Balloon release in Virginia Beach. Image by Jacqueline Thornton

  • Weddings
  • Sporting events
  • Graduations
  • Political rallies
  • Store openings
  • Memorials and funerals
  • Marketing or public relations events
  • Charity events
  • At car dealerships (when balloons are cut from the cars at the end of the day)

In other cases, balloons are accidentally (or purposefully) released in small quantities:

  • During or after a party
  • Handed out at stores or restaurants
  • Fairs and carnivals

Multi-year research conducted by the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program and Clean Virginia Waterways into the reasons why balloons are released is detailed in the report Balloon Release Research in Virginia and Reducing Balloon Debris (Witmer et al., 2017).

Pie Chart of the reasons for balloon release based on a national media analysis

Pie Chart of Reasons for Balloon Release – National Media Analysis


Pie Chart of Reasons for Balloon Releases based on a public survey conducted in Virginia

Pie Chart of Reasons for Balloon Releases- Virginia Public Survey


Balloon Release Research in Virginia and Reducing Balloon Debris through Community-Based Social Marketing. 
Witmer, V., Register, K., & McKay, L. (2017). Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program (Virginia Department of Environmental Quality).