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Why Greenpeace doesn’t support Balloon Releases

Posted by Willie Mackenzie - 16th February 2018

What goes up, as they say, must come down. And that’s why Greenpeace doesn’t, and won’t, support balloon releases. At the risk of sounding like the fun police, let me explain why:

About 16 years ago I remember a campaign ‘brainstorming’ session trying to come up with a way to visualise how a release of radioactivity from a nuclear power plant might spread. Someone came up with an ideal way to do just that – a balloon release from the power plant! The winds would carry the balloons up into the air, then blow them, far and wide and anyone finding a tagged or printed balloon would understand that if a balloon could make that journey, then so could something much more deadly like radioactive pollution.

Unsurprisingly, that idea never got used. Because balloons are deadly, like all litter and plastic pollution can be.

Around the world Greenpeace is campaigning tirelessly for healthy, safe oceans to preserve marine life,and the organised irresponsible release of litter – which is what balloon releases effectively are – is a death knell for many of our most treasured ocean creatures.

I also remember a few years ago being on a whale watching trip in Monterey Bay in California, an ocean sanctuary which is a hotspot for amazing marine life, everything from blue and humpback whales, to pelicans, sharks, sea lions and utterly adorable sea otters. Several times on that trip the boat slowed down so that the crew could fish some plastic trash out of the ocean – in every single case it was a deflated balloon, the plastic shiny sort that kids clamour to have on a sunny day out. But having a Disney princess or a superhero printed on it doesn’t make it any less problematic if it gets into the ocean. Animals get entangled in balloons, swallow or choke on them, just as they can with any other trash in the ocean. It’s worth remembering that just one single balloon (or other piece of ‘rubbish’) could injure or kill an animal.

So next time you see even a solitary balloon floating up, up and away, remember that at one end of that story is probably a crying child, but at the other may well be a dead turtle, dolphin or seabird.

Big balloon releases may not use balloons made of plastic or tied with fancy ribbons, but the sheer scale of them is alarming – with hundreds or thousands of balloons being released in one fell swoop. These don’t simply disappear into the wide blue yonder, they obviously end up somewhere. Even if the balloons are not made of plastic and labelled ‘degradable’, that all rather depends on them degrading conveniently before they manage to choke or ensnare something.

So, no, Greenpeace doesn’t support balloon releases (or sky lantern releases for the same reasons) and fully supports campaigns like #DontLetGo by our friends in the Marine Conservation Society, as well as local initiatives to make sure ill-advised, out of date, and irresponsible inflated pollution releases simply don’t happen.

After all, what goes up, must come down, even if it is far away from your back yard by then.

Learn more about Greenpeace’s campaign to #EndOceanPlastics here.