5 facts about balloon debris

Surrounding festivities, there often are discussions about the harmfulness of debris after balloon releases in the Netherlands. Wageningen Marine Research provides 5 facts to consider: should we release balloons or maybe keep them on the ground?

  • 5 Small facts about balloon debris
  • 1. Balloons travel across great distances
    In early May 2007, a work visit of researchers of Wageningen Marine Research to French colleagues became quite embarrassing! Following Dutch Queen's Day celebrations, strong northeasterly winds brought a lot of Dutch party balloons all the way down to Normandy, at least 800km away from their point of release. In the vicinity of Le Havre, more than 10 balloons per kilometer coastline were recovered. Most originated from companies advertising their business. However, also charity organisations were involved, yet sending out the wrong message here.
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  • 2. Balloons are a danger to wildlife
    Debris from balloons represents a danger, because animals may become entangled in ribbons preventing normal foraging activity. Animals also mistake balloon debris for food and ingest the material, which may block the stomach or intestines and lead to starvation.
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  • 4. How many animals die because of balloons?
    It is impossible to give figures for the number of animals dying from entanglement or ingestion of latex balloon remains. Occasionally we find wildlife that died from entanglement or a blocked digestive system. At least 2% of fulmar stomachs investigated has remains of balloons. We have no idea about such figures for other wildlife species.
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  • 3. Degradable balloons are not the solution
    Animals mistake remains from balloons for food, which may cause blockage of stomach and intestines an may lead to starvation. Latex rubber, in spite of its natural origin, does not degrade quickly enough to avoid ingestion by marine wildlife and potential damage to their digestive system.
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  • More about litter and consequences for the natural environment?
    Wageningen UR investigates the problems related to plastic litter in marine-, fresh water- and other natural environments. This ranges from plastic debris in the sea (‘Plastic Soup’) to invisible small plastic particles in rivers. Researchers of Wageningen Marine Research have been monitoring the abundance of plastic debris in stoachs of Northern Fulmars in the North Sea for over 30 years. That research forms the basis for monitoring programs also in other European marine areas. In part this concerns plastic ingestion by other bird species, but also by for example marine turtles, mammals and fishes in European waters and elsewhere.
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  • 5. Choices: usefulness and necessity of balloons
    The risk of wildlife suffering or dying from balloons may be best balanced against usefulness or necessity of balloons released. Latex weather-balloons are an essential element for reliable weather forecasts to the extent that human lifes may be affected. But the short joy of a mass of party balloons disappearing into the sky? It is also an option to fix balloons as a decoration at the location, enjoy them for the full duration of the festivity, and in the end take them down to be discarded properly.
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