Tuesday, July 15, 2014

PSA: Backward Balloons

This Public Service Announcement is brought to you from the past. The little girl in the photo, proudly holding a balloon, is me. The year is probably around 1979 or 1980. My Mother and I are standing outside our Church in Cincinnati, ready for the yearly Vacation Bible School balloon release. This annual tradition served as the kick-off for VBS, and provided two weeks of wonderment for children who eagerly anticipated the return of the cards attached to said balloons. The contest was simple: each balloon had a card attached. As the balloons popped at the end of their journey, we hoped someone would find the card and mail it back to the Church. The winning balloon was the one that had traveled the farthest.

This tradition went on for years....but I remember when it ended. There was a shift in collective opinion regarding the environmental safety of releasing dozens, hundreds, or thousands of balloons into the atmosphere. Once we understood the impact of these repeated and widely popular actions, we just stopped. In fact, several states went as far as to make such releases illegal: California, Connecticut, Florida, New York, Tennessee and Virginia. In Kentucky, such releases are currently illegal in the city of Louisville.

Unfortunately, I have noticed a huge resurgence in this activity. In 2014, the activity appears to be almost untouchable or irreproachable due to its connection to mourning. It has become the new go-to celebration of a life passed. Yes, I will admit, such releases are beautiful...but the brief moment of beauty does not erase the harm inflicted on wildlife that may come across the balloon remnants once the pieces fall back to the earth.

When history does repeat itself, sometimes the same horrible results follow. I am saddened that we are taking a step backward to make the same mistakes of the past. Instead of celebrating a life passed by releasing dozens of items that could bring death to other creatures, why not come up with alternatives? Some have suggested doves or butterflies or even bubbles. While gardening the other day, I had thought of ladybugs. Gardeners purchase these beneficial little bugs on a regular basis as a natural balance of power when battling flower pests.

Some will argue that this concern is no longer valid because of two things: 

1. The balloons are made of latex which is a natural substance and biodegradable: Not really - natural latex could be, but it takes 6 months for a natural latex balloon to decompose - plenty of time to adversely affect an animal. Most released today are not natural, but modified to decompose after years of exposure.

2. The helium inside the balloon takes it to a height that shatters the balloon's surface, thereby removing the danger of larger pieces falling to the ground: Not really, this can happen in some cases, only if every balloon is tightly sealed or tied closed. If the closure is loose at all, the pressure can cause the end to open and the balloon floats down intact. However, you cannot seal them with anything but the balloon bottom - any other closure, such as string, plastic, or tape is regarded as non-biodegradable and littering according to most local laws. Plus, even the shattered pieces can be large enough to choke a small animal. 

***One special note about closures, strings, or tags: Non of the aforementioned items should be used if you do make the sad decision to release balloons. Unfortunately, when viewing some local releases here in Kentucky, I have observed strings or ribbons attached to the balloons when let go. Which tells me this new and hazardous retro-fad has not even been researched prior to the organization of such events.

For those of you who have lost loved ones, I have every sympathy for your loss, and believe you should celebrate their life in beautiful, grand gestures of love. However, in the case of balloon releases, please take that off your list, and try to think of a celebratory gesture that will not harm the environment or accidentally take a life as a result. Please pass on this word of knowledge from the past. I implore you to make a different choice BEFORE this new collective activity takes too great a hold!

For more info: http://balloonsblow.org/


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