Are Balloons Bad for the Environment? 6 Eco-Friendly Alternatives

By Sher Warkentin in Thinking Sustainably

Birthdays, anniversaries, and other special milestones are always a cause for celebration. No matter what or how you celebrate, it's fun to decorate—but what if the colorful balloons you use come at a cost for the planet? Balloons have long been a party staple, but are balloons bad for the environment? Let's take a closer look at a balloon's environmental impact and check out some fun, eco-friendly alternatives.

Balloons have a huge impact on the environment.

Are Balloons Bad for the Environment?

Birthdays and balloons have always gone hand in hand at my house. They're such a simple way to add some color and fun to a special day, but I recently discovered that things are not so simple when it comes to a balloon's impact on the environment.

According to the University of Michigan, a balloon can travel thousands of miles and then end up polluting the ecosystem where it lands. Balloons can be especially harmful to birds and marine life, such as fish and turtles, who can mistake the balloon debris for food and get entangled in ribbons. Sea turtles and other marine animals can often confuse burst balloons floating in the water for jellyfish. Once ingested, the plastic can block their digestive tract, leading to starvation.

Additionally, as a study published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials notes, latex balloons are not biodegradable. The study looked at different types of balloons in saltwater, freshwater, and industrial compost. Over the course of sixteen weeks, the balloons showed no significant degradation, indicating that they would continue to pose an environmental threat over time.

It's not just the balloon itself that impacts the environment but also what's inside of it: helium. As Washington University in St. Louis explains, although helium is a natural resource, it is entirely nonrenewable, which means eventually, the planet will run out of it. It also has vital uses beyond giving balloons a bounce. The U.S. Department of the Interior lists it among 35 elements or minerals critical to the nation's security and economy.

Balloon Alternatives

1. Tissue Paper Pom Poms

DIY tissue paper pom poms are my favorite alternative to balloons. Not only are they easy to make, but they're also reusable. I made some for my daughter's third birthday party, and she loved them so much that they ended up hanging in her bedroom for years after. Make them in any color you like, and hang them up just about anywhere you would typically hang balloons. Reuse them again and again, or simply recycle the paper.

Paper pom poms are an excellent balloon alternative.

2. Garlands

A garland is an easy way to add some color to your festivities, and it's also an excellent opportunity to reuse or upcycle materials you already have at home. You can make these using leftover wrapping paper or craft paper, fabric scraps, old greeting cards, newspaper, or even old clothes. Simply cut your materials into a fun shape, such as hearts or stars, punch holes in them, and string them on yarn or rope.

3. Fabric Bunting

Grab some colorful or patterned sheets and make your own bunting. You can tie off scallops with yarn and hang along entryways or banisters. Pull the sheets down and drop them in the wash to use again when the celebration ends.

4. Streamers

Paper streamers are a super simple balloon alternative. Hang them up for a party and when the celebration is over, just toss them in the recycling bin. If you want to take it one step further, you can also find streamers already made with recycled paper.

5. Lanterns

Recently, my kids had some fun recycling plastic bottles into lanterns. We hung them up outside for Halloween decor, but they work for just about any special occasion. Cut the top off a plastic bottle and decorate it by gluing on scraps of tissue paper. Punch holes near the top and string yarn through the holes to create a hanger. Add a battery-operated tealight inside and hang it up. Kids will have a blast making these, and you can reuse them again and again.

Bubbles are much more eco-friendly than balloons.

6. Bubbles

As the University of Michigan explains, balloon releases are an exciting way to mark a special occasion, but they are also one of the most dangerous for the environment, as hundreds of balloons are often released into the air at once. If you still want to enjoy the effect of setting something afloat in the sky, nothing beats the thrill of bubbles. Pass out bubbles to your party guests and have some fun blowing them in the air. No matter how old you are, bubbles never disappoint.

Balloons are a lot of fun, but their environmental impact has long-lasting effects far beyond the temporary joy they bring. With so many balloon alternatives to choose from, you can still find exciting and eco-friendly ways to celebrate a special occasion.

Discover more eco-friendly tips to live more sustainably on the Thinking Sustainably board from @tomsofmaine on Pinterest!

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Why It's Good

Balloons can bring a lot of joy, but not necessarily for the planet. Choosing eco-friendly balloon alternatives for your next party can help you celebrate in style without hurting the environment.