Sending balloons up in the air, especially in large numbers, is one of the favorite celebrations of a lot of people on many different holidays. It’s colorful, it’s fun, it has the added mystery of wondering where the balloons are going to end up, and kids love it. It also makes for the horrific deaths of countless animals.
We all know that the plastic pollution crisis is extremely significant (1), so much so that it will take a massive international intervention to minimize its effects. Knowing that, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking “Oh, one small balloon isn’t going to make much of a difference.” And while that may technically be true as a single piece of plastic will literally be just another “drop in the ocean” (2), that doesn’t change the fact that your own “single piece of plastic” is going to kill one more innocent bird, sea turtle, dolphin or even a whale.
This was further exemplified by the recent discovery of Josie Jones (3) who, while cleaning up trash from a beach in Australia, found a dead wild penguin with a knot of balloon strings around its legs.
Josie contacted the Earthcare St. Kilda organization (4) immediately and send them photos of the dead penguin (5). The organization later released a statement explaining what had happened and how the penguin died (6):
“An entanglement such as this would impair the penguin’s swimming ability, resulting in starvation or drowning. Both the ribbon and balloons are to blame for this death,” the organization wrote. “These were someone’s balloons. Was it worth it?”
This is a crucial point that too many of us still fail to consider – the fact that there are nearly 8 billion people on the planet (7) doesn’t mean that the environmental impact of any individual is diminished – even a single balloon, needlessly released into the air by a child is still going to end up as a murder weapon for an innocent animal miles away.
So, while the priority of most environmental protection organizations still lies in limiting the negative effects of the larger corporations and industries on the environment, it’s up to the rest of us to not contribute even more to the needless deaths of the wildlife around us.
“One of the important steps to protecting wildlife from plastic pollution is to reduce our consumption,” added Flossy Sperring, a research coordinator for Earthcare St Kilda. “In terms of sustainable celebrations, there are so many environmentally friendly alternatives … paper decorations like lanterns or confetti, candles, native (or non-native) plants/flowers and more … It’s so easy; people just need to be willing to say goodbye to old habits.”