Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Time to stop balloon pollution and danger

bird and ballon remainsWhen I first saw a news item about the balloons damage to the environment, and the needless suffering and death of wildlife, I was a little puzzled to begin with, having wrongly assumed the subject was giant hot-air balloons.

As usual, making an assumption meant making a mistake, and the real subject being referred was the increasingly common mass releases of small, helium filled balloons to mark public event, appeals, charity events, and worst of all – as advertising.

Having referred to the end of the Co-op’s plastic carrier bags, and Glasgows’s achievement of making the bottom of the local authorities’ recycling list, this item seemed to have an increased relevance. In terms of pollution, if the organiser of the balloon release was seen dumping the uninflated balloons and attached strings and labels somewhere, then they’d be reported and fined for fly-tipping, illegal dumping, or littering. However, because they inflate the balloons with helium and let them disappear into the sky, they get away with it, even though their balloons will eventually fall out of the sky and become someone else’s litter. And it’s worth bearing in mind that this will be long-lived litter, as they won’t be bio-degrading in a hurry. Perhaps the little lables they carry should be handed into the police or local authority, instead of being sent back to the owner to let them know how far their balloon went, and the authorities could let them know – along with a little fine for their trouble.

However, the more serious aspect of these releases has been highlighted by Marine Conservation Society (MCS), which has appealed organisers of balloon releases to look for different ways to publicise their causes. Their studies have found that these events have almost trebled in occurrence in recent years, and that they are finding more instance of harm to wildlife, either tangled and trapped in the string, or killed as a result of swallowing the deflated balloon and string. They report a recent international survey which found nearly 60,000 balloons over a two-day period last year.

This may not be a huge problem in the bigger picture, but is something that’s basically unnecessary, wasteful, polluting, and ultimately hazardous to wildlife, and is best avoided. There are plenty of alternatives if a little publicity is needed, even using balloons, and which don’t bring the same disadvantages.


June 11, 2008 - Posted by | Civilian | , , ,


  1. The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has called for the ban on mass balloon releases to protect the wildlife who they have found to be killed due to the waste effects of latex balloons. But is a ban the answer, or are the MCS guilty of using shock tactics to increase their profile ?

    While they do have a case for the problem, further evidence needs to be produced to find out why sea life are interpreting balloon fragments for food. Would an alternative be to release balloons that degradable within a few days of being released? or remove any plastic fittings or ribbon attachments from the balloon? Another idea is to release balloon colours that do resemble food (No green colours for example).

    Whatever the outcome, the Marine conservation society must work with the Balloon Companies and the UK Association (NABAS) to bring the concern to a conclusion. If the MCS succeed with banning balloons, the killjoys may be looking at criticising other businesses for their profile gain. Can MCS ban everything that may cause an accident?

    Sarah Rose
    Balloon decorator


    Comment by rose10 | June 11, 2008

  2. To be honest, my first reaction on reading the utter drivel in the preceding comment was to delete it, then I thought better of the idea, since it’s a perfect example of workings of the thought processes of someone who’s only interest is in padding their wallets (or purses).

    Two examples:

    “find out why sea life are interpreting balloon fragments for food”

    That verges on being an insult. Animals have no concept of balloons, or any other sort of man-made hazard, and grab anything that might be a meal. The more rubbish we leave around, the more damage we cause.

    There’s also no mention, or intent, of the Marine Conservation banning balloons, or anything else for that matter, this is targeted at the random dispersal and failure of organisers to collect their waste after an event, and not different from collecting the rubbish after an open air event, or street parade. Organisers of those events are obliged to clear their litter, as should anyone who releases balloons. They shouldn’t be exempt.

    The MCS are not employing “shock tactics”, they’re simply highlighting facts that some would prefer were not made public as it might affect their business.


    Comment by Apollo | June 11, 2008

  3. housands of balloons released into the sky can make an impressive sight. But what goes up must come down. The impact of balloons on animals and the environment can be grave – even fatal. Balloon releases often take place at charitable events and are being considered for millennium celebrations, but the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), RSPCA, National Farmers Union (NFU) and Tidy Britain Group (TBG) are calling on all organisations to support a voluntary ban on them and to celebrate events in more environment and animal-friendly ways.
    Balloon releases cause litter which can harm wild, farm and domestic animals. An estimated 90-95 per cent of balloons rise to an altitude of three kilometres and burst into small fragments. Others may float many miles before descending to the ground or sea semi-inflated. The largest-ever balloon release was 1.4 million balloons – of those, 140,000 could have fallen to the land and sea.
    Many marine species found in the North East Atlantic waters off the UK – dolphins, whales, turtles, fish and seabirds – have been found with balloons in their stomachs. They probably mistook them for natural prey such as jellyfish and squid. Given the harm balloons cause wildlife and domestic animals, and the aesthetic damage to the environment, the MCS, RSPCA, NFU and TBG believe there should be no balloon releases in the UK. It is also questionable whether balloon releases are legal. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, it is an offence to drop ‘or otherwise deposit’ litter in a public place. It would be fortunate if celebration of and support for one good cause were to be responsible for the blight of another.

    Great post!


    Comment by advertising balloon | July 27, 2008

  4. we need to stop the ballons and save the invierment


    Comment by mikenzie | April 13, 2009

  5. […] Time to stop balloon pollution and danger. […]


    Pingback by Time to stop balloon pollution and danger | Adrienneknits's Blog | November 3, 2013

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