On Tuesday 26th April, Cottesloe Council in WA passed a motion to move forward in creating a report to develop a by-law to prohibit the use of air or helium filled balloons at any events approved by or run by the Town of Cottesloe.
The decision caused controversy amongst the public due to a lack of understanding. Once released into the air, balloons can drift for hundreds of kilometers before descending, or even raise into the stratosphere where they burst and return to earth in a spaghetti-like shape. As “air borne litter”, balloons then end up in the environment, such as in waterways and in the ocean. At a recent Senate Inquiry on marine debris, concern was voiced since balloons were found to have travelled 300 km in less than 24 hours in Western Australia in 2014, reaching the coastline from a location far inland. (Photo courtesy of Ian Hutton).
Terrestrial and marine animals are known to mistake balloons for food and swallow them or to get entangled in the string attached. These encounters can then lead to the loss of a limb or even to the death of the animal such as turtles, whales, dolphins, dugongs or seabirds.
Dr Kathy Townsend from the University of Queensland stated at the Senate Inquiry that balloons are “attractive to both seabirds and turtles because they look similar to squid and jellyfish. Researchers have found ‘pretty much fully intact balloons’ in the intestines of marine fauna. The gastrointestinal pH is not sufficient to increase degradation”. In other words, balloons are not digested, but often block the guts of the animal causing it to starve to death.
Some misunderstanding also surrounds the biodegradability of balloons, and while some balloons are biodegradable, they can take up to 4 years to biodegradable, plenty of time to injure and kill wildlife. The ribbons and clips often attached to balloons are not biodegradable, and this plastic will remain in the environment indefinitely.
Since balloons are classified as urban litter, and considering the impact they can have on wildlife, a ban of balloons is a step towards addressing litter issues and potentially fatal consequences for wildlife.
Tangaroa Blue Foundation supports the steps that the Town of Cottesloe has implemented to address this predictable and often fatal type of litter, and have released a fact sheet on balloons that does not only inform about the impact of balloons in the environment, but also showcases alternatives to celebrate events without the use of balloons.
After all, who wants to be responsible for a dead animal as a direct result of an organised festivity?