‘Balloon pollution’ choking the Great Lakes, 18,000 pieces of debris found on shorelines since 2016

‘Balloon pollution’ choking the Great Lakes, 18,000 pieces of debris found on shorelines since 2016
(Source: University of Michigan/Planet Blue)

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - New surveys information released from volunteer trash pickups by the environmental nonprofit Alliance for the Great Lakes provide an alarming look at a new foe on the pollution front—balloons.

People coming together for balloon releases is nothing new. From birthdays to anniversaries to memorials, almost any major life event can be celebrated with balloons.

What is new, however, is a growing understanding of what happens after the balloons are released.

According to a recent report by the Detroit Free Press, the surveys revealed “more than 18,000 balloons, balloon pieces or balloon strings along Great Lakes shorelines between 2016 and last year.”

The problems associated with balloon waste have led to five states to ban or limit balloon releases, with eight others considering restrictions, the Free Press reported. However, Ohio is not yet among them.

California, Connecticut, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia have already implemented bans, while Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Maine are all currently considering action.

The aftermath of such a seemingly innocuous display is being studied and publicized by Lara O’Brien, a master’s student at the University of Michigan. In April, she published a report outlining the environmental impact of balloons and suggestions for eco-friendly alternatives.

O’Brien also cited a March 2019 study by the University of Tasmania, which identified balloons as the single greatest debris threat to seabirds.

A new study has found that balloons are the highest-risk plastic debris item for seabirds -- 32 times more likely to kill than ingesting hard plastics. Researchers looked at the cause of death of 1733 seabirds from 51 species and found that one in three of the birds had ingested marine debris. The data showed that a seabird ingesting a single piece of plastic had a 20 per cent chance of mortality, rising to 50 per cent for nine items and 100 per cent for 93 items.
University of Tasmania

To assist in her research, O’Brien created a web survey for citizen volunteers to report balloon debris. The form asks for the date, time and location of debris and includes and option for attaching photos.

As awareness of the problem increases, so, too, does the number of environmentally friendly options to balloon releases. In fact, organizations like Balloons Blow are popping up to help combat the problem by offering reasonable alternatives.

“Balloons Blow provides information to educate people about the destructive effects released balloons have on animals, people, and the environment, and strives to inspire and promote an eco-conscious lifestyle.”

For more information, visit their website.

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