18,000 Pieces Of Balloon Waste Found In The Great Lakes

by Julie Scagell
Originally Published: 
Michael Zeigler/Getty

What goes up must come down

People use balloons to celebrate and mark many occasions — from birthdays and graduations to baby showers and remembrance events. Most people don’t think of it as littering when they release these balloons into the sky but it’s a very real problem affecting our environment.

It may seem innocent enough to release a balloon but did you know volunteers found more than 18,000 balloons or pieces of a balloon along the Great Lakes shoreline between 2016 and 2018? The repercussions of all that rubber, mylar, and string littering our environment is not only dangerous for wildlife, it’s polluting our planet in record numbers.

If a balloon goes up, it’ll eventually come down. If that happens in our oceans, rivers, or lakes, the impact for animals that ingest or get tangled up in it can be deadly. A study from the University of Tasmania published in Science Daily showed that found balloons are the number one risk of mortality in seabirds, higher even than plastic. If it comes down in or along an ocean, sea turtles, dolphins and other marine animals can ingest these particles and die.

As the awareness of balloon waste has grown, many states are limiting or banning intentional releases. Only five U.S. states today have laws regulating balloons: California, Connecticut, Florida, Tennessee, and Virginia, and at least eight other state legislatures are considering such laws.

“It’s a huge problem — washed-up balloons on the beach are huge,” said Pamela Denmon, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist at the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge. “It’s really dramatic and troubling. It paints a picture of the bigger plastic pollution problem plaguing the Great Lakes, our oceans, and really the entire planet.”

Balloons are often a symbol of celebration as well as a remembrance of ones we’ve loved and lost, but there are a lot of planet-friendly options out there that people can consider in their place. suggests several options like a “plant in remembrance,” which is “a great way to honor and remember a loved one or an important issue is to bring more life to our planet.” For more celebratory occasions, consider ribbons, streamers, or dancing inflatables. You can also add candles or luminaries — even blowing bubbles — to celebrate without wreaking havoc on our planet.

“People don’t think about it as being litter,” Christina Trapani, a beach cleanup volunteer at the National Wildlife Refuge told USA Today. “(But) if it goes up, it’s going to come down sooner or later.”

Even those marked as “biodegradable latex” litter the planet. They travel thousands of miles and pollute the most remote and pristine locations. “Although latex balloons are considered bio-degradable,” reported. “This will take anywhere from 6 months to 4 years to decompose and they can wreak a lot of havoc before they do.”

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