Oct 31, 2016
By Guest Blogger Steve Jasiecki of Sustainable Downbeach
Whatever goes up must come down, and so it goes with balloons. Whether intentional or not, helium-filled balloons released into the air fall back to earth, becoming hazardous to marine and wildlife.
In the ocean, balloons or pieces of balloons resemble jellyfish, a common food of whales, dolphins, turtles and other species. When eaten, the material gets lodged in the digestive tract, making it unable to digest its food and the creature slowly starves to death. Cows, sheep, camels, dogs and other land animals also share in this fate when mistaking balloons for food. Along the coast, marine biologists are finding more and more marine mammals and birds washing up on the shores, caused by the ingestion of plastics and balloons.
Coastal communities have seen an increase of balloons in the ocean and washing up on their shores. Fisherman and boaters are all too familiar with seeing them floating in the water.
Many businesses are moving away from decorating their shops with balloons and using more environmentally friendly alternatives. Flags, banners, streamers, whirligigs, and dancing inflatables are prime examples. They are eye-catching, attractive and reusable. They save owners time and money and can be used again and again.
Image from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Lastly, moving away from balloons saves valuable helium. Helium is a non-renewable gas that is in limited supply. Like oil and coal it took millions of years for the earth to produce the helium that we have. We cannot create any more. Once it’s gone, it’s gone and it is going fast. Helium is needed for the medical industry, research, industrial use, equipment testing and other important purposes. It is far too valuable to be wasted and released into the air where it will never be recovered.
Five states and several cities have enacted balloon laws to combat this growing problem. In 2014, the City of Margate passed an ordinance prohibiting the mass release of helium balloons. The Margate Business Association will not allow balloons of any kind to be part of any of their functions or events. The Ventnor “Go Green Parade” has discouraged the use of balloons and is asking everyone to eliminate them entirely from future events. Many real estate companies have stopped using them to promote “Open Houses.” In their place, they are using banner flags to attract people.
More and more people are coming on board. We are encouraging elected officials to take heed and to start taking active measures to help protect their communities by passing ordinances that prevent the release of helium balloons. After all, releasing balloons is really littering.
Sustainable Downbeach is working toward creating a healthier, friendlier community with an eye on protecting the environment. For information or to get involved see Sustainable Downbeach on Facebook.
The views, opinions and positions expressed are those of the author alone and do not represent those of The Atlantic County Utilities Authority.