Balloon releases: What goes up, must come down


It’s that time of year again when I hear about, read about, or even witness one of my biggest environmental pet peeves: a balloon release.

Recently I heard about a balloon release by Relay for Life, as well as for Missing Children. I wondered if those people releasing the balloons realized they could be killing a wild animal, or at least realized they were actually littering.

As a child I remember actually doing a release as a school science project, and, of course, I always remember watching when a balloon was accidently let go at a fair or festival. This was often followed by the sounds of a crying child, or the look of amazement on the child’s face as the brightly colored balloon drifted up and away out of sight.

That was then and this is now.

We should know better

Just as we now know multiflora rose is considered an invasive species (it was originally thought of as a soil conservation measure, and as a natural hedge to border grazing land), we now also know that releasing balloons into the atmosphere does little more than create litter.

It is actually quite simple, what goes up, must come down. You see, the balloons do not go up “to heaven”, as a balloon release often symbolizes.

Frankly, balloons rise up in the atmosphere until they burst from the air pressure, or balloons (and even sky lanterns) drift in the air currents until they slowly deflate, and end up back on either the land or in the water.

Most balloons have string attached to them, which also acts as a form of deadly litter.

Balloons are death traps to wildlife, get tangled up in farming equipment, and are eyesores in the environment.

So now that we know better, why are there still so many balloon releases?

Ticking time bomb

Balloons travel hundreds of miles before landing in a forest, field, lake or ocean. Many animals mistake balloons or even the string for food, or they get tangled in the ribbons.

Birds, whales, sea turtles, seals, dolphins, sheep, cows, cats and other forms of wildlife have all been harmed or killed after eating balloons or getting entangled in the string or ribbons.

These balloons become ticking time bombs for helpless animals. When an animal swallows a balloon, it can block its intestinal track, leading to starvation.

Big lobby

The balloon industry, of course, claims otherwise and is working hard to keep balloon releases legal. They claim latex balloons are biodegradable, but in reality, they can take years to break down, and Mylar balloons take even longer.

The balloon industry does not consider the harmful ribbons or strings most often attached to the balloon. So, the truth is balloons become pollution, and sometimes, deadly pollution.

Speak out

Education is the best weapon in fighting the balloon release battle. Once someone understands just how awful balloon releases can be, I hope he would change his mind.

Sometimes people do things without realizing the harmful consequences. It is up to all of us to politely educate and inform leaders, planners, organizers or even schools that balloons and even sky lanterns should not be released.

It’s simply littering. Ask them, “Why celebrate by harming another?”

Thousands of balloons are washing ashore, floating in the ocean, littering our lands, and posing environmental hazards.

There are other environmentally friendly ways to celebrate an occasion or remember a loved one. Plant flowers, trees or a butterfly garden, do something that promotes life.

You can also celebrate or remember a loved one with banners or flags, light candles, fly kites, blow bubbles, release a floating flower in water, or organize a clean-up.

Please hold on to your balloons, and dispose of them properly.

For more great information about how you can help, visit or and please make a difference.


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Kelly Riley has been the Education Specialist for the Wayne Soil and Water Conservation District since 2003. She earned her B.A. Degree in Education from the University of Akron and was previously a teacher with the Tri-County ESC. Kelly can be reached at (330)-262-2836 or by e-mail at



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