This week on the Green Life, we’re sharing tips
for disposing of relatively common trash items in ways that reduce their risk
of endangering wildlife. Yesterday we learned about properly discarding plastic bags . Today we consider balloons.
Tip #2: Deflate, cut, and bag used balloons.
If not properly
disposed, these buoyant decorations can suffocate or starve wildlife long after
the party’s over. The Marine Conservation Society estimates that the number of
balloons along shorelines has tripled in the past decade. As with plastic bags, animals often mistake
balloons for food. Eating balloon slivers can cause them to
get sick or choke. Partially inflated balloons can clog the digestive tract,
starving the animal to death. Besides the balloons themselves, the ribbon used
to tie them can choke and/or strangle wildlife.
The latex in
balloons can take from months to years to biodegrade, depending on the
environment where they fall, and foil helium balloons don’t biodegrade at all. In other words, one balloon could harm several creatures.
can drift far and wide. Typically a balloon will rise five miles before
freezing temperatures cause it to burst into pieces. Those then scatter across an area that varies
depending on wind speed and direction.
In 1993, Baltimore’s National Aquarium
Marine Animal Rescue Program and medical staff extracted more than three square
feet of plastic debris from the intestines of a stranded pygmy sperm whale, which
they named Inky. The largest item recovered was a foil balloon. Inky’s ordeal
later led Maryland and other states to pass legislation limiting mass balloon releases.
from balloons by properly disposing them. Deflate and cut balloons and any ribbon into small pieces, sealing them
tightly in a bag before discarding them. (Remember t hose plastic bags we talked about
yesterday ? You can also re-use the plastic
bag in which the balloons were packaged.) Add any non-recyclable “micro-trash” lying
around the house—like gum wrappers and bottle caps—which can also harm wildlife
balloons, especially outdoors. Otherwise, keep them tethered to furniture or tied around
children’s wrists. Consider eco-friendly, yet equally celebratory, alternatives
to balloon releases, such as blowing soap bubbles, or planting trees or
Melissa Pandika is an editorial intern at Sierra and a graduate journalism student at Stanford University. Her interests include environmental health
and justice, urban environmental issues, and conservation
biology. She has a soft spot for cetaceans.