Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

Balloon Releases: What goes up….

ballon resease

Daniel 2014

We have all watched as a balloon floats into the air, waiting to see what would happens. Then it floats out of sight and we are left none the wiser.

Dose it continue to rise into space where it just floats around with the aliens?
Does it rise until it pops?
Or does it just float around our atmosphere until it deflates and lands in someone’s back yard?

In my last blog, we concluded that balloons will continue to rise until the weight of the air is equal to the weight of the balloon. However, the balloon rarely gets to this altitude.
The air pressure reduces with height, causing the balloon to expand. Also, the latex rubber decreases in elasticity as temperature reduces [4]. This means the balloon will reach a certain height, estimated at about 20 miles above the earth, before it explodes into millions of tiny pieces [4, 5].

Helium filled balloons are often used by family and friends to say goodbye to their loved ones. This would be a harmless exercise, considering balloons will just explode into millions of pieces too small to cause any damage, right?

Well, this has caused a number of debates.
The balloon only explodes if it manages to reach this altitude.
There are many cases where balloons become caught in power lines or trees preventing their rise. Also, when the balloons are not completely inflated or correctly knotted, they will deflate before they are able to reach this height.
However, even in cases when they do reach the altitude, the string that is often tied to the balloons do not explode like the rest of the balloon.

turtle

Balloons Blow 2016

Under these circumstances, the consequences on the wildlife are drastic.
In two news reports from AOI [6] and Virginia first [2], the impact of such balloon waist on wildlife are explained. They suggest that animals come across the waste and ingest it, thinking it is food, causing them to chock and die. Sea turtles are especially at risk of this as they need to surface to breath and eat the balloon waist on the surface.

bird

Balloons Blow 2016

Birds are another animal which are at particular risk. The birds are attracted to the bright colors of the rubber and can often become entangled in the string which strangles or traps them [6].

However, balloon industries claim that balloons are safe to use. They claim that only 100% biodegradable latex balloons are used in the mass balloon releases [4]. These balloons are made out of 100% natural latex, as we discussed in my first blog, and allegedly biodegrade at the same rate as an oak leaf, as stated by Qualatex[3].

Organisations such as Balloons blow [1], who are direct activates against balloon releases, argue that although it may be true that these latex balloons biodegrade at the same rate as an oak leaf, this process still takes at least four years to occur.

latex balloon

Balloons Blow 2016

They also state that balloon litter on sea water degrade at a slower rate than those on the land [1].

So where does this leave us?
Balloons made out of 100% latex, released without strings and in a clear area will provide the best chance of the balloons reaching the desired height to explode in pieces which are too small to effect wildlife. Although there will be pollution from this, they are able to biodegrade and, due to their size, do little damage in the four years that it may take.

However, would it not be safer and more respectful to find an alternative to saying goodbye, rather than risk the balloon waist taking more lives?

References:

1.       Balloons Blow 2016, Backyard Biodegradable Test, Balloons Blow, Retrieved 24 April 2016, <http://balloonsblow.org/biodegradability-backyard-test/>.
2.       Balloon release controversy 2015, Video, Virginia First news, 17 April, Retrieved 23 April 2016,
<http://www.virginiafirst.com/news/balloon-release-controversy>.
3.       Pioneer® Balloon Company 2015, Little-Known Facts, Qualatex, Retrieved 24 April 2016, <http://www.qualatex.com/pages/facts.php>.
4.       Ruben M 2014, what happens to helium balloons when they float into the sky? ABC Science, Retrieved 23 April 2016,
<http://www.abc.net.au/science/surfingscientist/heliumballoons.htm>.
5.       The Naked Scientist 2013, Science Forum- Topic: How high can a helium balloon go?, University of Cambridge, Retrieved 23 April 2016, <http://www.thenakedscientists.com/forum/index.php?topic=1020.0>.
6.       US Fish and Wildlife Service wants public to know about devastating impact of balloons on animals
2015, Podcast, AOI news, 11 August, Retrieved 23 April 2016, <http://www.aol.com/article/2015/08/11/us-fish-and-wildlife-service-wants-public-to-know-about-devastat/21221198/>.

 Image:
Daniel 2014, Final Arrangements, Memorials, Urns online, Retrieved 24 April 2016,
<http://www.usurnsonline.com/final-arrangements/memorial-service-ideas/>

 

 

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2 comments on “Balloon Releases: What goes up….

  1. bimalig
    April 27, 2016

    This is a really interesting topic and learning about the possible negatives of an object that makes millions of people happy in an instance is fascinating. I never really thought about the environmental impacts of balloons and the amount of detail you’ve gone into explaining it plus the photos of the real life affects on wildlife really puts it into perspective. Furthermore, the helium in the balloons itself is said to be unsustainable (http://encenter.org/visit-us/programs/birthday-parties/balloons/ ) as “easy to access” helium resources are running out even though it can never be completed depleted. Overall I really enjoyed reading this blog and maybe a more environmentally friendly method of farewell can be planting a tree in remembrance.

    Like

  2. flickgordon
    April 28, 2016

    Thank-you for your comment.
    I am glad that you found this worth the read. I have also seen articles about the storage of Helium running low. As much as i love Balloons, I believe the use of Helium in medical procedures holds greater priority.
    I completely agree with you on the alternative methods such as planting trees. The significance of the Balloons is a symbol of letting go, allowing the loved one to reach new places. Perhaps methods such as bubbles or flowers in a river could be an alternative which gives a similar meaning and gesture as balloons.

    Like

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