Guest Post: Campaigning to stop deadly balloon litter
Guest post from Karen Joynes, founder of No Balloon Release Australia
No Balloon Release Australia was formed in 2016 to promote a petition to the Australian Government to nationally ban the release of balloons, and for a ban on the use of helium to inflate balloons.
We were motivated to take action following the growing number of balloons washing up on our beaches and increasing research showing the devastating impacts on wildlife. Balloon litter is completely avoidable.
The 2016 petition had over 2,000 signatures and was presented to the Australian House of Representatives in early 2017; unfortunately the response was not very encouraging. However, an e-petition in late 2019 resulted in a more positive response in 2020, indicating the Federal Government is now taking marine and plastic pollution seriously, and action on balloons should be included in state and territory Single Use Plastics policies.
We continue to lobby State, Territory and Federal governments to make the necessary action to stop balloon litter.
What is a balloon release?
A balloon release is where a helium-filled balloon is released into the sky.
This can be a mass balloon release; many occur at memorials and funerals, but also at parties (such as gender reveal parties) as well as charity or corporate events. Or a single balloon release including accidental releases.
These can be standard latex balloons or Mylar foil balloons.
What’s the problem with balloon releases?
All balloons, not just helium-filled balloons, allowed to litter the environment pose a danger to wildlife.
Wildlife can often mistake balloon litter for food - burst balloons can be mistaken by marine animals for squid or jellyfish. Once ingested a balloon can cause blockages in the animal's digestive system from which they will likely die. This is common in seabirds, turtles and platypuses but also terrestrial animals like cattle.
Wildlife can become entangled in balloon debris and strings, unable to move or fly to find food they will starve to death. Balloons are one of the top three threats to marine wildlife.
‘Biodegradable’ balloons pose the same risks to wildlife. It can take as long as 4 years for a latex balloon to break down in the environment. This is more than long enough to endanger the lives of animals and birds.
Foil balloons are made from aluminium foil sometimes with a layer of plastic called Mylar further adding to plastic pollution.
Balloons can fly a really long way; balloons released Western Sydney were found three weeks later on Lord Howe Island 800km away. [source] It doesn’t matter where a balloon is released, the pollution can be widespread.
In addition to the balloon litter, helium is a rare, non-renewable gas essential for many vital medical, scientific and industrial purposes such as cooling batteries in MRI machines.
For more facts about the impact of balloons releases see BalloonsBlow.org.
Current legislation for balloon releases
The legislation regarding balloon releases currently differs across Australia.
Queensland has banned the release of balloons, accidental or deliberate.
Victoria, ACT, Tasmania and South Australia all say releasing balloons is covered in their Litter Act, but with the exception of Victoria, these jurisdictions have nothing specific about balloons in their Litter Acts nor any education.
NSW allows “up to 19” balloons to be released while acknowledging the damage balloons can do to the environment - we are hoping this allowance will soon be removed.
Even where bans are currently in place, mass balloon releases are still occurring. While helium for balloons can be bought at retail chains, discount stores or even the local newsagent, balloon release will occur.
What are we doing about it?
As the awareness of the impact of marine plastics pollution has grown we have run subsequent petitions to demand local and federal governments to take further action against dangerous balloon litter.
You can find details of our current campaign on our Facebook page.
What action can YOU take against balloon litter?
1. Choose not to buy helium-filled balloons
This is probably the most simple step any of us can take to reduce balloon litter. By not buying a helium-filled balloon there is no risk of it becoming marine litter.
And by not buying a balloon when you normally would, you are reducing demand for retailers to stock such items.
When decorating for a party there are lots of alternatives to balloons. Bunting, paper fans, pom-poms garlands and streamers can all make for a colourful party without the risk of balloon litter. More eco-friendly party decorations
2. Choose not to organise or take part in a balloon release
There are lots of ways to celebrate an event without a balloon release.
While this may be difficult if the event is a funeral and memorial, it may be possible to delicately suggest an alternative to a balloon release.
Our favourite alternatives are:
Plant a tree to commemorate the occasion - what could be better than taking a positive environmental action!
Wave flags, banners or ribbon streamers
You can find more ideas on BalloonsBlow.org
3. Write to your State / Territory Minister for the Environment
Find out who is your local minister responsible for the environment and let them know what changes you think should be made to legislation in your state / territory.
Ask the minister for a complete ban of balloon releases, ban the use of helium to inflate balloons and ban the sale of Mylar Foil balloons
Where to find contact details for your local minister responsible for environmental policy:
Northern Territory: https://nt.gov.au/about-government/the-cabinet
South Australia: https://www.premier.sa.gov.au/the-team
Suggested text which you could include in your letter:
“The impact of released helium balloons on our wildlife and environment is well documented.
To prevent balloons releases at their source, can you please take action to regulate the sale and use of helium used to inflate balloons?
This would also tie in with the National Waste Strategy and Single Use Plastics policies as well as the Threat Abatement Plan for the impacts of marine debris on vertebrate marine life of Australia's Coast and Oceans (2018).”
It is recommended that you check the current legislation in your state / territory before writing so you can request suitable updates to your local legislation.
Please share your action and any response with us via our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/noballoonrelease2016/