Balloons are a popular and easy way to mark a momentous event in one’s life. But what many people fail to realize is that these celebratory pieces of plastic are no fun for animals.
Balloon releases—which sometimes take place at graduations, sporting events, and other school-related events—send hundreds or even thousands of balloons up into the atmosphere, where they can travel for many miles. For example, a balloon released at a University of Nebraska–Lincoln home football game was found on a beach in New York, more than 1,200 miles away. What goes up must eventually come down, and when deflated balloons return to earth, they wreak havoc on animals and the environment.
Balloon Releases Kill Animals
Balloons don’t decompose quickly, and their strings usually aren’t made of biodegradable material, either. Even biodegradable versions can take as long as four years to break down! Animals often mistake balloon fragments for food and choke or suffocate when they try to eat them. Partially inflated balloons can block animals’ gastrointestinal tract, causing them to starve to death slowly and painfully. Shorebirds and other animals can become entangled in balloon remnants—many birds have been found dead with bits of Mylar, latex, or string wrapped around their necks, beaks, or legs.
© Denmon, Pamela/USFWS
Countless dolphins, whales, and sea turtles beach themselves and die every year after ingesting deflated balloons, which can resemble jellyfish—one of their regular food sources. Even land animals who graze on vegetation can accidentally ingest balloon parts.
Put an End to Balloon Releases at Your School
Teachers can put an end to balloon releases simply by approaching administrators or activity coordinators. Explain that releasing balloons is antithetical to character-education laws set for each state. Highlight the detrimental effects of littering, and check to see if balloon releases are illegal in your city or state.
Environmentally Friendly Activities
Encourage your students to choose sustainable ways to celebrate. For example, to mark significant events in their lives, ask them to plant a tree or a butterfly garden or put up a birdhouse. Your students will have years of lasting memories as they watch their tree, garden, or birdhouse flourish and give back to the environment. They’ll remember these experiences and benefit from them far more than they would have by observing a balloon release.
Please share these resources to inspire other teachers to incorporate compassion for animals into their curricula.