Environmental Concerns and Advantages
Research shows that after latex balloons are launched, they
often rise to an altitude of about 5 miles, where they freeze,
breaking into tiny pieces that scatter as they return to earth.
While we do know that animals occasionally eat these soft
slivers of rubber, the evidence indicates the pieces ultimately
will pass though the animal's digestive system without harming
There is no documented evidence that a balloon has ever been
responsible for the death of any sea animal. Although many
stories have appeared in the press about sea creatures dying
from balloons, extensive research by the industry and reporters
has yet to verify one such story. In a study of 439 dead sea
cows over an 8-year period, Cathy Beck of the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service did not find a single balloon inside a single
deceased sea cow.
frequently cited case is one in which the Marine Mammal
Stranding Center in Brigantine, NJ, found a balloon in the
intestinal track of a dead sea turtle. Bob Schoelkopf, the
director of the Center, has said himself that the balloon could
not be identified as the cause of death.
Balloons used in releases are made of latex, a 100 percent
natural substance that will break down both in sunlight and
water. The degradation process begins almost immediately
"oxidation", "the frosting" that happens to latex balloons, is
one of the first signs of the process. Exposure to sunlight
quickens the process, but microorganisms attack natural rubber
even in the dark. Under similar environmental conditions, latex
balloons will biodegrade at about the same rate as an oak leaf.
The actual degradation time will vary depending on the precise
conditions, but it can be as short as several weeks.
Balloons are not a significant litter problem. During a
nationwide beach cleanup in 1990, volunteers collected more than
1,300 tons of debris, only 150 pounds of which were balloons.
Rubber trees, from which latex for balloons is harvested, are
one of the main forms of vegetation in tropical rain forests,
which in recent years have become crucial to maintaining the
earth's fragile ecological balance. Harvesting latex can be a
more profitable alternative for countries with rain forests than
raising cattle on the deforested land. Even the latex used in
balloon manufacturing that comes from plantations instead of the
rain forest helps the ecosystem, as the natural biology of the
trees helps maintain our atmosphere and protect the ozone layer.