Sunday, March 4, 2012

Up, Up, and Away

I was thinking about balloons the other day and wondering about their environmental impact. There are two types of balloons out there: latex balloons that are filled with human air or helium and the mylar (foil-like) varieties.  Environmentally speaking, latex balloons are BY FAT the way to go. You can even compost them. WHO KNEW? Latex is organic, made from the sap of rubber trees through a process similar to that used for collecting sap for maple syrup. Latex balloons – whether you blow them up yourself or fill them with helium - will break down in about six-months – about the same amount of time as an oak leaf.  If released, latex balloons filled with helium, will explode into tiny pieces once they reach an altitude of six miles – and these fragments should be small enough that they won’t pose any danger to wildlife.  Note though that strings, ribbons and other attachments on balloons don’t explode and don’t breakdown quickly and they can pose a very real danger to wildlife. Mylar balloons are another story.  While they are reusable, they hardly ever are reused.  They are a foil product and don’t break down easily. 

So what’s the verdict?  If you’re going to buy balloons, buy latex balloons and fill them with helium or regular air.  Compost them as you can. If you’re going to do a balloon release, you can use helium filled latex balloons, but you shouldn’t tie anything to these as the strings will take time to break down and can pose pose a threat to wildlife when it does. Avoid using mylar balloons unless you’re going to reuse it…again, and again, and again.

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