States Push Back Against Releasing Balloons

Deceptively festive, balloons–both Mylar and “biodegradable natural latex rubber”–pose a grave threat to marine life and add to mountains of marine debris. Justine Kibbe Photo

Connecticut, California, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia have laws on the books that limit massive balloon releases, and a New York State Senate/Assembly bill introduced in March would impose stiff penalties for the intentional release of even one balloon.

But are people listening? Dead or injured sea turtles, dolphins, whales and other marine species, as well as terrestrial animals tell a different story. It is estimated that over 100,000 marine mammals die each year from plastic entanglement or ingestion, including five percent of all dead sea turtles that had ingested “natural” latex balloons.

“Biodegradable natural latex rubber” balloons appeal to eco-conscious consumers, but actually fuel corporate “greenwashing” programs, which are reportedly unsubstantiated claims of environmentally friendly and safe products. In reality, many additional chemicals must be added to shape milky natural rubber latex sap into the products we know as balloons.

Animals are usually killed from stretchy balloons blocking digestive tracts, preventing the ingestion of nutrients, leading to starvation and death. Animals also can become entangled in balloons and attached ribbons making them unable to move or eat.

Another hazard of balloon releases is related to power loss. Some power companies estimate that 16-20% of annual outages are due to balloons. Metallic or foil balloons that conduct electricity interacting with power lines are reportedly almost always the culprit.

Mylar balloon floats in water next to jellyfish, the favorite food of sea turtles. When a turtle mistakes the balloon for food, the balloon can clog its digestive system, causing the turtle to starve to death. Some experts have said a springtime breeze can carry balloons for miles, taking them from points inland to Long Island Sound and to the four species of sea turtles that inhabit Connecticut waters.