Outdoor Balloon Releases

Feb 14, 2023

Outdoor Balloon Releases

The National Weather Service releases 50,000 five foot diameter weather balloons each year.
– unknown

Outdoor Balloon Releases

Environmental Concerns

Outdoor Balloon Releases

  • The release. Millions of balloons are released each year in the US. The National Weather Service releases 50,000 five foot diameter balloons each year. Treb Heining has released over 1.4 million balloons at once. As balloon decorators, we face a lot of opposition about balloons and balloon releases being bad for the environment. As environmentally aware citizens (who make a living from the sale of balloon products) we have set some personal standards and strict commercial policies regarding the environment and the way we will operate our businesses. It is NOT YET the law, but encouraged, that released balloons be hand-tied, with no tails (ribbon, string, etc.). A released latex balloon is biodegradable, but most often the tail is not. Plus, it can easily become tangled in trees and power lines.

Things to watch out for

  • Know your ordinances, laws, etc. We have had customers ask for balloon releases. After doing our homework, we found out that our city has an ordinance against releasing balloons. We tell our clients that if they want any large scale releases they have the clear it with the city first. The city usually makes the people provide liability insurance, and this has the effect of discouraging balloon releases.
  • Treb says that when he is doing a release of over 50,000 balloons, he will NOTIFY (not ask) the FAA at the local airport of the date and time of release. If you ask permission, you will wind up in months of red tape over something they have no control. Treb assured me that there were no laws that would prohibit me from doing a release.
  • Of course, once we have provided the balloons and once they leave our business, we are cannot be responsible if they get released. We tell our customers – but do they listen? Sometimes. We did a large spiral garland arch for a bank, had them sign a contract that the balloons would be disposed of properly, gave them a verbal warning about releasing the balloons, etc, and what happened at the end of the event? They released the arch en masse. We happened to be driving by and saw the entire arch floating above us.

Releases At Funerals

  • Just saw a news feed about a company in Florida, Eternal Ascent. They offer an ingenious way to spread the ashes of a deceased pet. The ashes are placed in a 3 foot latex balloon and after a long, tearful adieu, the pet owner reluctantly releases the balloon, where, according to the reporter, it climbs to 5000 feet, at which time the balloon freezes and bursts, spreading crystallized ashes over the tear laden land below! Hmmmmmmmm… if it works for pets, why not Aunt Bessie, too!
  • I saw white balloons used for a young girl’s funeral. Her close friends and family members held the balloons through the graveside ceremony. Then at the very end, each person released their balloon as the minister said something (I wish I could remember the exact wording) about her soul taking flight to heaven. It was a touching symbolic part of the ceremony. I also heard of a funeral for a child who died of cancer where purple balloons (the child’s favorite) were released.
  • My first experience with Balloons at a funeral was at the funeral of a friend of mine, who was also a balloon artist. He and his partner had discussed the funeral and the decor with me several time before he passed away, so I was fortunate enough to know exactly what he wanted. We did an AIDS ribbon (ala Steve Smith – check out the Images issue with the 1995 IBAC sculptures in it) behind the casket at the viewing and at service. After the service, the family and friends gathered at their house for a luncheon. To conclude this gathering, we did a balloon release of custom imprint balloons. (His Name, Birth and Death Dates) from 2 bags we had staged in the backyard. Because I am very conscious of the environmental issue, we did not have ribbons on any of the balloons. We reserved one smaller bag of inflated balloons, and passed them out to the family and friends as they came into the backyard. They just held them between their hands, and when the time came, they released them. It was very touching, and there were many tears.
  • Otherwise, a sculpture of something the person held dear to them, or a heart, or a cross, can be very tasteful. But I really prefer releases. There is just something about a release that gives a closure to a funeral service.
  • Be conservative/tactful/professional. We make a point of reassuring the funeral directors that we will not park our “happy signage” vehicle within sight of the mourners. Park a block away and walk the balloons to the burial site. Also, no brightly colored uniforms to be worn. Switch to plain black polo shirts. Inform the staff it’s an “eyes down” occasion and not to be looking at the mourners. White balloons are most appropriate and less likely to offend. If it’s a release, ask for a cue from the priest or relative. The cue should be a hand signal, rather than a verbal cue. Finally, a balloon release at a funeral is best offered as a symbol or visual sign of “prayers to heaven.” Do not do a fast release (dump). Let the balloons “trickle” out of the net or bag, sort of 3 to 5 at a time depending on the total number you have to release. In the sky it looks like a long “stream” of prayers floating to heaven. We offer a maximum of only 100 balloons as the “message” can be delivered with such a small number (even 50), and it’s a more managable net size in a stiff breeze. If it’s a small number there’s less chance of drawing negative publicity about balloon releases also. Be careful with religions and customs. eg; white at Chinese funerals – not black dress. Ask beforehand.
  • We did a small balloon release at a family member’s funeral. It was for a 10 year old child so the emotions were very high for everybody concerned. What we actually did was attach approx. 3 ft – 4 ft lengths of white crepe streamer to each of 30 white balloons. They were stored in plastic bags until the appropriate time. When the mourners came out to do the customary show of respect to the parents we passed out the balloons to family members and friends and every body politely waited till the parents led the release. What an IMPACT this made on all in attendance. Some people gave their balloon a little kiss before releasing, some said a prayer, some gripped onto the streamer not wanting to ‘let go’ . As a group, there was about 60-80 people in attendance and we all suddenly had a “bonding” moment of emotions as our eyes were all focused on the rising balloons. Imagine what they looked like with their long tails trailing behind as they made thier way to the clouds. There were comments like, “They looked like Angels playing….” There was gasps, tears and sighs of relief as many of us were able to “let go” at least some of the sorrow as we watched those little fellas slowly drift out of sight. Completely contradictory to the emotions provoked by our usual use for balloons but never the less just as important. If used in a tasteful way at the right time the comforting, non-threatening emotional power of the balloon can sometimes redirect our whole outlook on life.
  • All you really need to do is give them a bulk price on helium balloons (I would think 25 or 50) and make arrangements for pick up or delivery. Also make sure that your local area allows balloon releases. And don’t forget to quick clip the ribbons right below the balloons to make sure that the wind does not leave them so tangled that they can’t be separated. It would be great if they could be attached to some sort of base, then passed out close to release time but you would need to be sure that they could be removed from the base quickly and that the ribbons were not getting all tangled by the wind.
  • At a balloon release for a funeral, where the client wanted it hand held, we inflated the balloons and put them in bags. As the guests exited the service into the parking lot, we pulled a balloon out of the bag, and the service into the parking lot, we pulled a balloon out of the bag, and handed it to the guests with no ribbon. They held it until the minister said the prayer, and the balloons were released.

Dissolving Arches

  • In a class Bruce Walden told us about a dissolving spiral arch release, attaching the quad of balloons to the pasta. See the Special Effects chapter for a thorough description of the “dissolving” technique.

Gift Box Release

  • Gift of Love Boxes
    A gift box balloon release is a giant gift box with a 100 or so ll” balloons in it that is strategically placed outside the church or at the reception etc. Usually the Bride and Groom or members of the wedding party pull two of the ribbons and voila! The box is built usually out of foamcore something like 4′ x 4′. Two of the sides are hinged or bent and attached so that they look like an “L” only both sides being equal. Then you somehow bring the two panels together to form the box. Now the lid is the tricky part and I can’t quite remember how that looked except that it opened (equally, I think) from the center with the big bow being attached to one side or the other. The only other part I know is that it’s best to blow the balloons full size and really early so they have a chance to get a bit “tired” so as they rise out of the box they move slower so everyone sees them rather than whoosh and you missed it. (This was the case when worked with the other folks I remember we tried to get a picture but the balloons went by in such a whirrrr that we missed it.)
  • At weddings, I do a balloon release from a giant gift box (was in Images Private Inflator a few years back) where I have a 4′ x 4′ gift box made of thick (1/2″) foam core. There is no bottom to the box and the top is closed with a large bow of the bridal colors on top. We put about 100+ helium filled 11″ balloons into the box from underneath. When the guests go into the church, that’s when we go into action and place the box outside the church doors. When the bride and groom come out, they get to open the box and release the balloons in front of all the guests. Then everyone proceeds to the reception and we take our box back to use again and again.
  • A popular and not unsightly balloon release I have been doing is one Patty Sorell told me about, and it gives the bride and groom more participation and a great photo op. You create a 4 foot square gift box from foamboard. Leave it bottomless and split the top down the middle, creating 2 flaps. Fill from the bottom with approximately 70-90 9-inch balloons and place a huge bow on top (in the bride’s colors of course). Once the guests have entered the church, put the *gift* in place on the sidewalk near where they will emerge from the church. The wedding guests will be surprised as the couple opens the box and the balloons are released. When the balloons first start to come out, the photographer should be snapping away.
  • I do a balloon gift box release. Start with a foam board that is 1/2″ thick, you need this thickness to be able to have the box freestanding and sturdy and so that you can use the box many times over (the 1/2″ foamboard is expensive so you have to get as many uses out of it as possible).You will need 4 pieces 4 feet x 3.5 feet (sides of box), and 2 pieces 4 feet x 2 feet (cover) My finished box is 4′ wide x 4′ wide x 3.5′ tall (this is for those petite brides who want to be seen over the box, instead of just their head looking over the top).

    Using white duct tape or velcro, create hinges for the sides and place cover on top of box, I find that pins are not sturdy enough to hold everything together. I run #40 satin ribbon (in coordinating colors) up the sides of the box and along the cover’s seam to hide it, then I add a large bow on top. Be sure that you can open the box easily (do not tie or tape the box shut with the ribbon) and add 2 small tabs of tape or some sort of handle so the cover can be lifted easily. Dont worry about the balloons’ lift, the weight of 1/2″ foamboard is plenty to keep the balloons in. At this point I usually put the box in the back of my van.

    Just before I go to the site, or if I choose to blow the balloons onsite (around the corner from the church), I pull the box just a little bit out of the back of the van and start filling the balloons and adding them to the box from underneath (notice we never did put a bottom on the box). When the box is full, we carefully pull the box the rest of the way out of the van and place it. I usually will place this Gift in front of the church only when everyone is in and the doors have been closed, that way it is a suprise when everyone comes out. Usually the bride and groom are out first, they will stand behind the box facing the church as the friends and family come out. They wait until everyone is gathered around then each of them grabs a tab and lifts the cover up and all the way over and the balloons fly out. Once everyone has gone to the reception, we will take our box back, break it down and store it away.

    If I can get the colors I need in 9″, then I can fit 100 into the box (fully inflated). If I need to go to 11″ I will be able to get approx 75 in the box (inflated to 10.5 inches).

  • Q. Do any of the balloons ever fly out from under the box, since it doesn’t have a bottom?A. Only if it is very windy do balloons escape, but because the balloons want to rise, they tend to stay in the box as we are placing it. We try to drive the back of the van as close to the final placement site as possible, that way we only have to pull the box straight out of the van and down 2 feet.
  • Q. If it’s two pieces what keeps it from folding in on itself?A. The 1/2 ” foamboard is much more rigid than normal foamboard, and the edge of the box keeps it from falling in too. The balloons being stuffed into the top also helps. Also the weight of 1/2″ board helps in windy situations
  • Q. How do you bring your sides together – as 2 pieces or 4?A. I use 2 sides that are permanantly hinged with white duct tape and open them out to 90 degrees. Then I stand up the second set of sides and tape them. For storage, each of these pair of sides is flipped all the way around (almost inside out), so you end up with flat pieces. Everything is attached with white duct tape and I keep the board white so it all blends. I peel the tape off each time and re-tape when necessary being careful not to peel away too much of the paper on the board. The ribbon and bow is what will coordinate with the balloon and dress color scheme.
  • Does anyone know where I can locate a picture of the gift-box balloon release?A. There are two photos of a gift box in the section on Classic Round Balloon Decor Sculptures:


  • The Gift Box Balloon release is in an old Images under the “Private Inflator” articles written by Joey Yaffe. The premise is to build a box (foamcore or whatever) and paint it white. Use a flap lid (1/2 and 1/2). Use hinges if you use wood, and tie a HUGE ribbon around the box and tie a bow at the top. (Attach the ribbon to the wood/foamcore at the top lid are, so when untied and pulled back the lid moves with it.) Then when the Bride and Groom leave the church, this box is outside on the sidewalk, and the Best Man and Maid of Honor untie the bow and carefully pull back the lids from which dozens of helium balloons float out making a very pretty and unexpected Balloon release. The article on how to build it is in the Images March/April 1992.

Outdoor Non-balloon Releases

  • Take a minute to visit the Web site: www.mgfx.com/butterflywish/ (link now dead – 8/25/00) This is a company that offers Monarch butterflies for releases at weddings and other events. What has us concerned is that in promoting their own business they denigrate balloon people by saying that balloons are damaging to the environment.
  • The owner of the company was featured in an article in People Magazine last year. He made the same types of comments then as he does on his web page. When the article came out, I posted it to this list, and asked everyone to write in to People Magazine with the facts. Fortunately, the magazine chose to run my letter in the next issue. I received a few calls from that… one of them from a local Girl Scout Leader who’s own troop had been ‘learning’ about how bad balloons were for the environment. I was able to go to a troop meeting and set them straight.I have also written several very nice letters to the company directly, and asked them to pull the incorrect information off of their web site. My first letter was greeted with a thinly veiled “up yours,” and my subsequent letters have been ignored.

    It is very sad to me that one industry feels it necessary to give themselves a leg up by denigrating another industry – especially when they resort to misinformation and outright lies in order to do it. I hope that everyone will go to see that web site, and that you all send in your own comments.

Environmental Concerns

Released Balloons – Where do they go?

  • The National Weather Service releases 50,000 five foot diameter balloons each year. How far can a balloon travel before it bursts? According to Totex Corp. (one of the world’s largest makers of weather balloons) the rate of ascent for a large balloon is 320 meters per minute or 17.5 ft. per second. A large balloon released at sea level would reach its bursting height in 26 minutes. The rest is up to wind currents.
  • Released 11″ helium-filled balloons explode at a height of about 28,000 – 30,000 ft. Two studies prove that. One by Don Burchette, inventor of Hi-Float and winner of the Crystal Award, and another financed by the Danish Department of Aviation and translated by Don Gebhard.
  • In Don Burchette’s first paper he conducted aging tests and measure the degradability of balloons. This is the paper that presents the widely quoted result that “latex balloons degrade as fast as an oak leaf.” Don also conducted a literature survey of the biodegradability of natural rubber. The results can be found here.

No strings attached

  • A release WITHOUT RIBBONS can be accomplished using biodegradable cotton string. Latex balloons are BIODEGRADABLE. Hand tie them to avoid the plastic clips.
  • I will not do a hand-held/string release because of environmental issues. The balloons will biodegrade; ribbons don’t. Plus, the added weight of ribbons and cards can prevent the balloon from reaching the necessary altitude to burst, so the whole balloon come back down to Earth.
  • Released balloons, will they have enough “oomph” to rise 5 miles up in the atmosphere to burst, thus fluttering down to earth and accelerating the biodegration process? At release time I’m sure you will get the visual effect you are looking for… pretty pearl balloons rising into the sky. What you won’t see is some of them wrapped in power lines 8 blocks away.
  • If at all possible, try to hold the balloons in a bag or net, and then hand them to the people to release.
  • My customer wanted to give her guests a balloon on a string and have them release the balloons individually. I convinced them that our ‘formal’ balloon release will be more dramatic and spectacular and would allow the photographer/videographer a definitive time frame for photos.
  • NO STRING! Please, NO STRING! String will do the environment harm PLUS the rest of us all over the world will get %$#@ from the tree huggers (rightly so). No balloon released into the atmosphere should have any kind of string or ribbon attatched. Therefore, unless it is a single knotted balloon held by an individual, balloons are ALWAYS knotted and contained inside a bag or net before being released en mass.
  • There are biodegradable strings. But, until they completely decompose, these can pose a potential problem to birds and marine life. Not to mention the “litter” tangled up in power lines. So, the golden rule — NO STRINGS ATTATCHED when releasing balloons into the atmosphere!
  • Curling Ribbon is a HUGE NO-NO. It will not biodegrade. Worse – when the balloon pops, the ribbon and the knot will fall to earth together. While the knot may be digestible to an animal that happens to eat it, the ribbon can bind the intestines. Raffia at least is digestible.
  • Several years ago a school wanted to do a balloon release but was afraid of getting flack from environmentalists. So the balloons had to be able to be brought back down. I tied the balloons in large bunches, put a long line on them and secured them to empty ribbon rolls. We did 20 bunches like this. Then they had the kids release them. So that their fingers wouldn’t get cut, I told them to use a pencil inside the roll. Worked like a charm. They had the joy of the release and were able to retrieve all the balloons as well.

Use the right ribbons

  • If your client insists on a hand held release, there are a few options. Use very short pieces of ribbon, or use a natural fiber, like cotton or raffia, use an inflated 260 as the handle – this will also burst.
  • The ZIBI-company has developed an environment safe disc called ‘eco-fix’. It is a carton-disc with a cotton string. Ten pieces are packed together, so you can put them all over the nose of your fill-station. You can get them from your local distributor or direct from ZIBI-USA Inc.
    phone (779) 592 2216
    fax (770) 591 3239
    email: zibiusa@aol.com
  • String is the thing! Perhaps there is one that is colored with vegetable dye. Disks and quick clips don’t hold air as well as a tight knot, from our experience. Get a select group and teach them how to tie, then let them teach their crew members.
  • I suggest you follow my crepe streamer suggestion. Just be sure you don’t encourage to send off anything that’s not biodegradable or too heavy for our little floating friends.
  • If you HAVE to use string, try to use very short pieces of thin Raffia Ribbon (any floral supply store should have it), which is a plant material and will biodegrade with the balloon.
  • For balloon releases we use raffia. It is strong enough to hold the balloon yet very biodegradable.
  • If your client wants to do a hand held release, you might consider passing the balloons out from a bag like we did. Or – and this is something that I have not done, but was suggested by another balloon artist friend – use inflated 260’s as the handles. (Inflated, because that balloon will also burst when it hits the right altitude, as opposed to an uninflated one which will just come back to earth whole.)
  • We were asked to do something recently where each child was to release a balloon so as they wouldn’t loose it we tied a rubber band onto balloon and they were able to use the rubber band as a bangle then just take off their wrist and let go.

Promotional balloon horror stories

  • I recently had a stall at a very large festival in Brisbane (Australia). The event was to celebrate our river (and had an environmental basis). Channel 9, our local TV station was a major sponsor. They had enough helium to hand out at least 5000 balloons over the weekend. The result was I saw literally bunches of balloons heading skywards. At any given moment you could look skyward and see at least 50 floating off (in the direction of the river and sea), and all had a clip and a string attached. I approached the festival organizers, who were disinterested, and I spoke to the environmental group who protect the river and sea, and they looked at me as if I was crazy.
  • I attended a charity walk for Diabetes today in Brisbane and again thousands of ballons were given away – and thousands headed skywards with clips and ribbons attached.
  • In all the publications put out by balloon people we advocate that balloon drops meet specific criteria – hand tied balloons and no ribbons attached – BASA Q have a web page to this effect. However, balloon artists cannot jump up and down and cry fowl of environmentalists trying to ban balloon releases if they don’t educate the people to whom they sell large quantities of balloons for promotions. Someone in the industry has to organize the printing and sale of the balloons, and likewise the clips, ribbons and helium. It is at this point that the purchasers should be told of the necessity to add a weight (but cost will obviously be a factor here) or at least tie the balloon to the person’s wrist. If a person pays a couple of dollars to purchase a helium balloon he’s going to look after it – when they are given away free (by the thousand), who cares? If it floats away, get another. Promotional companies should also be made aware that if they don’t take care with free balloons, there may be a time in the future when they won’t be allowed to use balloons as a promotional item.
  • It is not balloon releases that cause problems. It is promotional balloons being released willy nilly by the general public. I have raised the question with BASA Q and will let the list know what action we take. Maybe it is something we can highlight at the Australasian Balloon Convention to be held in brisbane next April.
  • Promotional balloons are big business, but long term they could cause the banning of balloon releases.
  • I am going to suggest to the Diabetes Association that next year they charge a nominal fee – maybe 50 cents, for a balloon. They will get extra funds and people will not be so willing to let them go by the bunch.
  • This weekend, I was doing decor at an event. There were a few other balloon companies there, and one of them had been hired to inflate several thousand logo balloons for a client, which were to be distributed to the participants. They set upon the idea of storing these thousands of balloons (already on ribbon) in 20′ tall release net bags until they were needed for distribution. Which was a good way to handle the challenge of holding that many balloons. Unfortunately, one of the filled bags got away from its handlers, and launched into the sky. I don’t know how it happened, and I know this balloon artist is WAY too professional to have allowed that to happen (it very well could have been client’s staff that released it). BUT accidents happen, and if you DO use such bags to store the balloons until the release, make sure you have it very firmly anchored.

Assorted essays

  • In our area, people tell their children that balloons kill birds and fish – stupidity. We try to educate as much as possible. But you’re right – it’s better to tell them before rather than after the fact. Seriously, education is the key.
  • I do small presentations for girl scouts, churches, woman’s clubs, help a kid with science fair… “Helium Paylift” is a winning display each time 🙂 It takes a little of my time and I meet lots of nice folks who remember my business name and the little kids have parties then dances, proms, weddings to come :)I order a coloring book called “A Lesson in Latex” from Balloon City USA. It tells the world a less jaded side of the story on the environment and balloons… More sea life dies from the plastic rings that hold a six pack of soda together in one month then sea life killed from balloon ingestion since day one of balloons! I take a few of these coloring books and some 260’s and my portfolios and have a ball!! If you have never seen this childrens coloring book… call 1-800-B-Helium and ask for Debbie.
  • September in Australia heralds the beginning of Spring. It is also the month of our national pro football playoffs and finals. A Sydney based balloon company submitted a successful bid to execute a number of mass releases of balloons at various playoffs. He organised crews, bought and stitched many nets, arranged scores of helium cylinders to be delivered, ordered the balloons in appropriate team colours… even flew from city to city to double check the sites and inflation locations at the sites. You can’t say he didn’t do his homework! Or can you?For the past 3 weeks Sydney has had a female Southern Right Whale frollicking in our harbour. On TV every night. On radio’s “Daily Whale Watch” immediately after the traffic reports. While all the other whales are traveling up our coastline on their annual northern migration, this young lady has decided she likes showing off and breaching among the harbour pleasure craft. We are truely blessed by her presence.

    Two days before the big football game the balloon company was told that the release was withdrawn from the entertainment program. One of the football clubs contacted the government’s Environment Protection Agency and suggested as a “measure of good will” they would cancel the balloon release because it could have a damaging effect on our visiting whale and other sea creatures. The fact was, they were avoiding negative publicity being directed towards them. Indeed, they assured themselves of earning brownie points from the public AND the government. They did their homework! The story made page 2 of the country’s largest selling newspaper. Who looked bad? The people who release balloons into the atmosphere!

    I feel for the balloonie! A personal friend and a colleague, I know he worked hard on this project. But like it or not whether balloons have not been proved to harm sea creatures, writing letters AFTER the negative publicity has not helped the balloon industry one ounce! Environmental policies and departments are a political wing. My personal opinion is that any balloon pro who ignores or challenges environmental issues, who promote mass releases of balloons and draws attention to this wonderful (and basically harmless) spectacle, is running a huge commercial risk and drawing negative publicity to our industry as a whole.

    For those of you who disagree with me (I’m sure there are many), please, at least put the environmental issues on your checklist when doing your homework PRIOR to your submission to the client. Raise the issue beforehand! Be pro-active! Put all the cards on the table BEFORE the big day. Being in the business of balloons, and ignoring environmental issues, won’t make them disappear. I hate to see anyone lose money or have to go to the trouble of enforcing contract clauses to get paid due compensation. Prevention has always been better than cure.

  • Balloon Artists & Suppliers Association Queensland have a page of very extensive information regarding balloons and the environment, including a questions and answer section. To view, please visit us at: http://dyson.brisnet.org.au/%7Ehelenc/BASAQ/environment.htm

    Dear List Members,
    In Australia, the annual AFL (Australian Football League) Grand Final has chosen not to release helium balloons this year for the first time in decades, reportedly under pressure from local environmental groups. As this is almost the equivalent of not singing “The Star Spangled Banner” at the Super Bowl, many fans are understandably upset. One jokingly suggested painting 50,000 doves in team colours and releasing them instead.

    Our understanding is that our local environmental group’s objective is to influence the Olympic Committee into not using helium balloons at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. The New South Wales EPA’s (Environmental Protection Authority) litter laws prohibit anything from entering the waterway system on the Sydney Harbour, and recently prevented the balloon decorating of boats for the traditional highly publicised ferry-boat race, unless they were air inflated and tied on with nets. Damage to aquatic sea life is their main concern, despite our “earth friendly biodegradable natural latex balloons” stance.

    If the Olympic Games push becomes a reality, it has implications for the balloon industry world-wide.

    I am aware that legislation exists in the USA regarding each helium balloon having an attached weight, and this is not yet the case here. Our goal however is to prevent the Australian Government from legislating against balloon releases or the use of helium balloons by proving that our industry is responsible and capable of self-governing its Australian (BASA) balloon association members.

    BASA has, like the UK Balloon association counterparts (NABAS), issued industrial guidelines to balloon releases for members and non-professionals who do balloon releases. The UK Marine Protection Society admit there is little or no evidence on aquatic damage, but they remain steadfastly against releases.

    Both associations wish to imply that: if releases are carried out properly by professionals, then they are OK (or at least they’re acceptable because very few land because they shatter into minuscule pieces in the upper atmosphere. Scientific evidence by Burchette in 1989 found a balloon released goes to about 5 miles and then shatters into minuscule pieces and comes to earth at a rate of about every 5 square miles. It has also been proved that turtles, even if they do eat the balloon, pass through the food chain without harm.

    In England, a 500,000 release for a cancer charity is currently being attacked. NABAS argues that, if organized properly and with care (using NO valves or clips and using recycled paper, etc,) the damage they do is minuscule compared with the good they do… raise half million pounds for human cancer sufferers (interestingly, the argument is between two opposing charities!).

    Last month HM the Queen released 2000 balloons to proclaim her vehicle fleet going over to environmentaly friendly LPG gas – her staff researched the issues and were quite happy. During the World Record release of 1.5 million balloons by The Kite and Balloon Company in the UK, Walt Disney put a team of lawyers on to it – they were happy. And one of the most prolific users of balloons there was Green Peace!

    Despite lobbying from environmentalists, the House of Lords saw fit NOT to ban balloon releases after considering the evidence available to it when their Environment Bill was passed.

    Our wish is to give evidence to the EPA that our industry IS responsible and no formal legislation is necessary. We’d like to present evidence that other countries and Associations have likewise been responsible on environmental issues. Can you help us with any “good” press or success stories your associations have had? I can be contacted privately on alanp@sanbrook.com.au

    Faxed copies of any press releases would also help our cause greatly. Our fax number is (country code) +61 3 9870 4511

    Would appreciate your help, and thank you in advance. Regards, Alan Perkins – PREMIER BALLOONS (alanp@sanbrook.com.au)

  • Every now and again, the subject of balloon releases comes up on the balloon_deco list. There is often a flurry of comments here squawking about private citizens or environmental organizations and their efforts to end irresponsible helium balloon practices.While balloons are known to be an environmentally sound industry in their growth, harvest and production, it is amazing to me why The Balloon Council and Pioneer want to continue to shoot themselves in the foot for the continued endorsement of balloon releases.

    To quote Mr Dixon: “There are biodegradable strings. But, until they completely decompose, they can pose a potential problem to birds and marine life. Not to mention the “litter” tangled up in power lines. So, the golden rule NO STRINGS ATTACHED when releasing balloons into the atmosphere.”

    What is the difference? Are you saying that until a balloon decomposes that it does not pose any potential problem to any wildlife? Why is a latex balloon any different from cotton string? (please, no parroting decompose statistics).

    Here is an undeniable fact: Although hand tied latex balloons are 100% biodegradable, they are still litter and do pose a potential threat to marine animals, seabirds and land animals. This cannot be disputed. As far as the incorrect bleating of some (including The Balloon Council) as to the lack of documented incidents regarding latex balloons doing wildlife damage -sorry- but there does exist direct evidence of latex balloons being ingested by marine animals. This argument though, is as ludicrous as it is irresponsible. To try and cite the lack of “incidents” to justify illegal littering for the sake of profit is as unethical as it is direct denial.

    To analogize this point, I can’t justify throwing my paper cup into the ocean just because “it is biodegradable”. There is also quite a difference, to the public, between a private citizen releasing a memorial balloon and a balloon company releasing them for profit. In the end, anyway, they both are still illegal litter.

    It is very clear that the environmental movement is becoming ingrained for good around the world. It has also become clear that more and more private citizens are becoming aware of the potential damage of irresponsible balloon practices and are (and will continue) speaking out with words and actions.

    If anything, you might hope the balloon industry, especially manufacturers and their “councils,” might try to look beyond the short term profit and look to the long term damage to the industry and the perception of the public if the continued endorsement of balloon releases is allowed to go on.

  • The following is from a letter I received from an environmentalist:

    My intent is not to ridicule your profession. You bring great joy to many people and I do not wish to belittle you. I will not dispute a balloon’s effect on marine life at this time, but there are still a number of flaws in your argument… you stated that these balloons degrade much like oak leaves. I am very familiar with composting and oak leaves are a hearty leaf. They can take a very long time to degrade. You are paid to purchase, fill and release hundreds, maybe thousands of these balloons at a time. Where they land is not your concern. Almost always, it’s on someone else’s property. Now, others must put up with or take responsibility for your garbage. Americans have earned many well deserved freedoms, but there is one very important disclaimer. Your rights end where my rights begin. The bottom line for me on the balloon-releasing issue has always been one of litter. Litter is illegal in all 50 United States. It doesn’t matter whether or not the litter is biodegradable — it’s still illegal. Further, many balloons *are* released with ribbons attached. I picked one up in Yosemite Valley just this past Sunday (the National Park Service naturalist with whom I was hiking can verify this if necessary). The balloon was torn, but most of it was there and there was a ribbon attached. Litter is unacceptable, in any shape or form. Regarding wildlife, a California Clapper Rail (endangered) drowned in the pickleweed at the Palo Alto Baylands a few years ago. The Rail became tangled in the ribbon of a balloon released by a science class in San Jose, CA (the student’s name & school name was on the balloon). When the tide came in the Rail drowned. But again, litter is illegal. It’s not anymore complicated than that. Why do political parties (republicans, democrats and others) release balloons in celebration? Why does anyone do this? What is so hard to understand about litter being illegal?

    Now step back a minute, take a deep breath, forget that you make a living from balloons, and read the above letter again, slowly. Go dig out your Balloon Council literature and thoroughly read it too. Then answer the questions posed in *the above* letter; don’t just rattle off your standard answers.

    Yes, balloon professionals NEVER release their biodegradable balloons with ribbons attached, but “Balloon professionals” are NEVER mentioned in the letter. This particular letter is not about “accidental vs intentional” releases, it is about the consequences of released balloons. Can anybody honestly say that they NEVER had a “biodegradable balloon with ribbon attached” get away from them? Come on… 🙂 You’ll get the same littering ticket whether your Big Mac wrapper blows out the car window, or is thrown out. Besides, no one needs a special license to buy a bag of balloons nor a roll of ribbon.

    Litter is an obvious problem but balloon litter is practically non-existent. Why would any sane person who has found thousands of plastic drink bottles, cigararette butts, candy wrappers, drink cans, fast food wrappers, tires, car parts, and miles of fishing line littering the country side, BUT ONLY ONE BALLOON, decide to wage war on the balloon industry? It’s certainly NOT because they want to decrease the amount of litter in our environment or they would go after the big offenders. Yes, fishermen frequently discard plastic monofilament fishing line along the river bank. There are thousands of plastic drink bottles and cellophane candy wrappers along mountain trails.

    But an answer that rationalizes littering is not going to change anyone’s mind, especially that of an environmentalist. This is exactly like saying:

    But Maaaaaoooommmmmm, everybody’s doing it!

    When what really needs to be said is:

    Yes, you are absolutely correct; littering is illegal. The balloon industry is committed to educating retailers and consumers about “good balloon practices,” to minimize the extent of balloon related litter and its consequences.

    You can tell an environmentalist that balloon related litter is not a significant source of litter, and that their efforts would be better spent in setting up a community recycling program for paper, glass, plastic, etc., or organize a clean-up drive, but you can’t rationalize littering! When someone states that “It doesn’t matter whether or not the litter is biodegradable — it’s still illegal.” they really do have a point! I live one block away from a McDonalds, and every morning and every afternoon I pick up McDonalds cups, straws, bags, napkins, wrappers, etc. from my lawn. I hate doing it, and I agree; litter sucks! You are not going to convince me that it would somehow be acceptable if people instead threw their half-eaten but biodegradeable hamburgers, fries and strawberry shakes on my lawn.

    Personally, I don’t care how many balloons you release. But if you are going to try and convince an environmentalist that you should be allowed to release balloons, you won’t get very far with these arguments. To sway an environmentalist, you have to think like one, not like a balloon professional.

    At issue is what was initially posted:

    You are paid to purchase, fill and release hundreds, maybe thousands of these balloons at a time. Where they land is not your concern. Almost always, it’s on someone else’s property. Now, other’s must put up with or take responsibility for your garbage. Americans have earned many well deserved freedoms, but there is one very important disclaimer. Your rights end where my rights begin.

    and the subsequent post that said:

    The bottom line for me on the balloon-releasing issue has always been one of litter. Litter is illegal is all 50 United States. It doesn’t matter whether or not the litter is biodegradable — it’s still illegal…. Litter is unacceptable, in any shape or form…. Further, many balloons *are* released with ribbons attached…. litter is illegal. It’s not anymore complicated than that. What is so hard to understand about litter being illegal???

    Again – I personally don’t care how many balloons you release. But this is a very legitimate question, and I have not yet heard a satisfying answer.

    To the person asking the question, the presence/absence of ribbon doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter whether 1 or 10,000 balloons are released. It doesn’t matter whether it’s done by a “balloon professional,” or a science class, or at a party. That’s not the point here.

    To the average (non-balloon professional) person, his question sounds like this:

    what would you think if I came to your neighborhood with a stack of old newspapers and did a “newspaper release” ? They’re biodegradeable, and don’t have ribbons attached. Heck, they’re made from trees and even printed with soy-based ink… how “green” can you get?

    If you can’t think of a good answer now, you certainly won’t be able to do so when you’re in front of a camera, manned by a news crew looking for a sound bite.

    Here’s something else to consider: I’m sure there are plenty of balloon professionals who won’t do balloon releases. What happens when that news crew finds them? How will the balloon industry handle that?

    Maybe the balloon industry should come up with a better answer than the Balloon Council’s answer of “balloon litter is not significant.” If you can rationalize small amounts of littering, I can rationalize large amounts of littering. Then heck, compared to the quantity of oil transported all over the world every year, I can even rationalize the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

    The Guide to Balloons and Ballooning mentions this in the Health chapter:

    …And if you do care about the environment, take a moment to make sure the balloon animals you make aren’t turning into litter, and if you are that sort, comment on the same to the little ones, and their parents. You could, actually end up doing our mother earth some good.

    and from the Crowd Control chapter:

    Your area should look neat. When your balloons start to pop, don’t forget to pick up the pieces (the “clown droppings”). If kids have no money but want balloons, have them earn their balloon by cleaning up your area.

    In a twisting class at IBAC, it was also stressed that you should carry a garbage bag and not throw your balloon pieces on the ground, that you should keep your area clean while twisting, and that you shuld leave it as clean as you found it.

    It looks to me like you’ve got one segment of the industry releasing balloons and saying that balloon litter is all right, and another segment of the industry saying that balloon professionals should be clean and not litter.

    Again – I personally don’t care how many balloons you release. I fully understand that everything we do involves trade-offs between useful products and waste products. For instance, nuclear waste or air pollution is part of the price we pay for electrical power. However, don’t rationalize littering because you can’t come up with a socially redeeming value for balloon releases. Until you can, you’d get more respect from me if you were honest and said “For the momentary enjoyment of a few people, I am getting paid to litter these balloons all over the state, and I’m going to do it regardless of what you think.”

    Either that, or call it art. 🙂

  • On the topic of the “Balloon Council” – I recall reading an article, written by the chairman ( C.O.O. at Pioneer Balloon), and published in Images magazine. It clearly suggested that balloon professionals should consider alternatives in lieu of mass releases of balloons into the atmosphere. I remember thinking, “How commendable!”I take a great interest in the environment we work in, the environment we live in, how our customers relate to each of them, and how to “dovetail” it all together. I enjoy the challenge of searching for a win/win for all concerned on this delicate topic. Part of the problem is that balloon pros aren’t pro-active enough in conveying their message to the public and also their customers.

    Anyway, I ‘ve been helping put together 8 short scripts for our telephone system that customers hear if, and when, placed “on hold”. Bingo! All of a sudden I realized it was the ideal place and way to promote her company’s environment policy. I’ve copied that script below for others who may have the “message-on-hold” facility and wish to use it. It’s up to every one of us to be pro-actve on this issue and by doing so, greatly reduce negative and often misinformed press.


    Please advise all your friends and relatves that our latex balloons are 100% biodegradable. Latex is a natural product drawn from rubber trees and rubber tree plantations are helping to green our planet. We advocate that no plastics or other non biodegradable products should ever be released into the atmosphere. So, please respect our environment, and for health reasons – NEVER inhale helium.

    A professional Balloon Decorator should be concerned at all times about the safety and earth-friendly issues. He/she has a responsibility to themselves, their industry and the planet to be careful what products they use to create the magic they do.

  • Some ten years ago or so I had a letter in what was then Balloons Today magazine. It was prompted by watching a leader in the Balloon Industry make the evening news repeatedly. He had staged a release each day of earth week at the state capitol. He would show them to ban releases! The demonstrators showed up in greater force each day until at the end he had them lunging towards him trying to pop the balloons with weapons of Balloon Assault. This and the ensuing scuffle on the six o’clock prompted me to take a look. On Good Morning America, I think he even went so far as to refer to the timber issue out west as another example of trying to save a few animals for no reason. I believe it went something like “Who will even know they’re gone?” The industry finally nudged him.It may be different today but then it was estimated that less than one percent of balloons manufactured were used in releases. Being a lover of nature I found myself understanding (although not agreeing with) their uneducated passion already. As a businessman it made obvious sense that if less than one percent of the profit is generated by an area that causes 99% of the bad press why throw it in their face.

    There was a decrease in all balloon sales during that time. Do the math. Obviously this is easy for me to say. What about those who make a living doing only releases? First you may want to think about bringing your wonderful talents to the rest of the 99% of the Balloon Universe of Opportunity. Education is paramount, truth about balloons and the environment, releasing without strings whenever possible, etc.

    I have no idea how the balloon release panic attack rolled around the world. I recall the first incident in LA bringing an unknown issue to light. Those of you may recall the problem was electrical and pre-environmental. (a problem specific to non insulated wires) Since then the cycle and experience in the US has been educational in itself. It would make a great study for those who are not so aware of the potential for damage.

    As always the overwhelming value, beauty, and fantasia of balloons prevail. I was most concerned then and now for those children who focus on the negative and miss the experience and wonder of balloons. I see how my children marvel at balloons.

    I will say it is inspiring to see the responsible and professional manner to which you are dealing with this and other necessaries. This industry and the players have certainly aged finely and with group wisdom.

MB 12/13/95
MB 12/22/95
SKB 01/13/97
SKB 12/23/97
MB 7/20/99
SMB 7/24/00