Balloons and the Environment
Are balloons eco friendly or are they bad for the environment?
Balloons do not have to be the environmental disaster that anti balloon groups and, occasionally the media, claim.
All consumption is bad for the environment, driving a car, buying food in single use plastic packaging, flying overseas on holiday, buying a bunch of flowers (cut flowers have a huge environmental footprint, using energy, water and chemicals to produce and then being flown around the world), consuming fast fashion (the clothing industry is just below the oil industry in terms of the negative environmental impact).
Most of us however continue to buy or use these products and services. We all differ in what we consider to be an acceptable environmental footprint and in the things that we are happy to spend our money on, however we all have a joint responsibility to find out the facts behind our choices, to act responsibly, and to use best practice whenever we can.
So... if you are a balloon lover and would like to continue using them at your events armed with the facts, then read on..!
Being environmentally aware and working in this industry has been an interesting and exciting journey, over the last two years we have gradually introduced more biodegradable and recyclable products and reduced the amount of single use plastic we use. We have also introduced a range of plastic free event decor solutions and now work with environmentally responsible companies such as Iceland Supermarket and the Body Shop, providing plastic free decor at their events (you can read our blogs on some of these here).
Having gained a fair amount of experience and knowledge in this area we thought it would be useful to provide some balloon facts and share some best practice ideas.
Types of balloons
Balloons fall into two main categories plastic balloons and latex balloons.
Foil & Plastic Bubble Balloons – These balloons come is all shapes and sizes and are made from plastic so will not biodegrade, it is therefore so important to ensure that these balloons never find their way into the environment. If you are using these balloons make sure they are weighted and when you have finished with them pop them and put them safely in the bin.
Latex Balloons- Latex is 100% a natural product of the rubber tree Pericambium; it breaks down when exposed to the elements of nature. Good quality latex balloons from balloon professionals will be made of 100% latex and will biodegrade and photodegrade over time.
Research shows latex balloons degrade at approximately the same rate as oak leaves, how long that may take depends on several factors such as the amount of U.V. exposure, the amount of oxygen present, the temperature, biological influences such as bacteria, fungus and algae.
As with all biodegradable materials, including cardboard and newspapers, the rate of degradation is not a constant, it depends on the conditions. However the great news is latex balloons are biodegradable and are in fact an important agricultural product, latex production provides vital employment in the countries that produce it and the harvesting of latex does not require the trees to be cut down. At The Party Company we use mainly Qualatex balloons which are made with latex from Rainforest Certified plantations.
Balloon Best Practice - How to use balloons responsibly.
Buy the best, source your balloons from balloon professionals and they will almost certainly use a good quality, responsibly sourced balloon which conforms to all relevant safety standards.
Always use weights on your balloons, never release balloons of any type into the atmosphere. Released balloons return to earth as litter and although latex balloons will biodegrade over time, until that happens they can pose a threat to wildlife, find their way into oceans and waterways or become tangled in power cables.
Dispose of your balloons responsibly, pin it and bin it. Pop your balloons and put them in the bin. The pictures below how small the waste is from a large balloon arch, natural, biodegradable latex with no long term environmental impact when disposed of properly.
Ask your supplier for eco friendly options, choose satin ribbon or natural string rather than traditional balloon ribbon, use eco friendly card and gravel weights, go for latex rather than foil balloons.
Return and recycle – return your weights and ribbons to your supplier or take them back with you when you want your next balloon.
A note on helium
We thought it important to mention helum as there is some misinformation out there that the helium gas used in balloons to make them float is in short supply and is being squandered in balloons when really it should be saved for important things like MRI scanners. This is the official response from BOC, the leading supplier of balloon gas in the UK.
"It’s important to be aware that there is a distinction between pure, liquid helium and impure, gaseous helium. Gas companies prioritise supplies of pure, liquid helium for critical medical uses e.g. MRI scanners in hospitals, ensuring that they can remain fully operational.
Helium for balloons is a different product – it is impure and gaseous and produced as a by-product of supplying liquid helium for the MRI market – a market which makes up about forty percent of the helium business in the UK. Impure, gaseous helium cannot be used directly in medical MRI scanners or in other applications that use super-conducting magnets. Impure helium can be recovered by the customer and reliquefied if the customer has the necessary plant on site, and if not, it can still be recovered and reprocessed for use in the balloon market.
Industrial gas companies do support the recovery and reprocessing of helium to ensure that every opportunity is taken to recycle and reuse this important resource. Historically, recovery has only been viable for large users of helium, but new opportunities are consistently being reviewed and implemented with customers to help them conserve and reuse their helium.
For the future, there is still plenty of helium on our planet, with investments being made to bring various new sources on-stream in the coming years. The locations and environments of these new sources will mean the market price for helium is expected to continue to rise, but making these investments will mean that helium will continue to be available for many years to come. Rising prices in the market will also drive an increase in investment in the means by which customers can recover more of their own helium."
You can find out more about balloons and the environment and the steps that the industry is taking to ensure balloons are used responsibly by taking a look at the Pro Environment Balloon Authority website
You can learn more about latex production here.