Mass balloon releases are sometimes held to mark special occasions, or as part of a competition. Unfortunately, while they may look pretty, this is a form of littering. Burst balloons often end up on beaches and in the sea, threatening marine animals and birds.
KIMO member municipalities are calling for an end to mass balloon releases to prevent pollution and protect the marine environment.
In 2015 KIMO members adopted a resolution calling on national governments and the European Union to recognise balloon releases as a form of littering. Since then, we have continued to call for legislation to reduce the number of balloons released into the environment and for national bans on all outdoor releases of balloons.
Millions of helium-filled latex balloons are intentionally released into the atmosphere each year. The debris from balloons poses a serious ingestion and entanglement hazard to marine animals and birds. Fragments from balloons also contribute to the accumulation of litter in the marine environment, one of the fastest growing threats for the world’s oceans health.
Studies in Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK show the scale of balloon debris as a form of marine litter. For example, in the Netherlands, balloons are in the top 10 items of beach litter.
‘Biodegradable’ latex balloons are still a problem
Latex is a natural material. However, it does not degrade sufficiently quickly to avoid ingestion by marine wildlife, causing potential damage to their digestive systems. Latex balloons submerged in saltwater have been shown to remain intact for more than a year.
Ingestion of balloon debris poses both a physical and chemical hazard and causes significant harm. Turtles, dolphins, whales and marine life mistake balloons floating in water for prey. Bits of balloons can block digestive tracts, causing the animal to slowly starve. Similarly, fragments of balloon debris will gather in the gut. Material ingested over many months binds together to gradually create a dangerous blockage, which may release harmful chemical toxins.
Attachments such as strings and ribbons take even longer to decompose and can cause entanglement.
Researchers have found that more than 265 species of birds, fish, mammals and marine turtles, including endangered and threatened species, have ingested or become entangled in marine debris. This is likely to be a conservative estimate of the actual scale of the problem.
For more information please read our resolution, first adopted in 2015.