The balloon bubble is about to get popped as the anti-plastic movement gathers force.
When a night club in the Philippines announced that it would host an enormous balloon drop on New Year's Eve in an attempt to break a Guinness World Record, there was international outrage. The spectacle was decried by Greenpeace Philippines as "nothing short of an arrogant and senseless enterprise" and the Climate Reality Project blasted it as "wasteful, unsustainable, and ecologically apathetic."
The club, Cove Manila, was initially defensive, saying the event would be held indoors and, because the 130,000 balloons were made of biodegradable latex, they would be recycled afterward. But then the government's Department of Environment and Natural Resources sent a letter to the night club, asking it to reconsider. A spokesperson urged the club to "redirect their efforts towards more sustainable, environmentally-friendly activities that the majority of Filipinos will enjoy and be proud of." Shortly after, Cove Manila said it had voluntarily canceled the balloon drop.This interesting news story is a sign of changing times and a glimpse of a not-so-distant future in which balloons will be reviled in much the same way as disposable plastic straws are now. This night club is not the only place where balloon-centered events are no longer allowed. Last year Clemson University announced it would end the tradition of releasing 10,000 balloons into the air before football games. The anti-balloon website Balloons Blow has an ongoing list of "balloon releases averted." The Associated Press describes other newly implemented limitations:
"In Virginia, a campaign that urges alternatives to balloon releases at weddings is expanding. And a town in Rhode Island outright banned the sale of all balloons earlier this year, citing the harm to marine life."
What's unique about balloons, however, is that there's no obvious replacement for them, unlike straws, which can be recreated in paper, metal or glass and work in exactly the same way. Balloons – unless we go back to the days of inflated pig bladders... just kidding! – must cease to exist for now, and we have to learn that it's still possible to have a fun party without them. (The Cove Manila people did. They still had an awesome New Year's Eve bash.)
It's important, too, not to fall for the greenwashed 'biodegradable latex' label because it means very little. As Quartz reported about the Cove Manila controversy, "Purchasing, transporting, inflating, and discarding 130,000 rubber orbs, even if they are made from earth-friendly latex, results in significant waste." While latex is biodegradable in theory, every balloon reacts differently depending on where it lands. And you can't avoid the fact that you're still sending trash up into the air to fall back to earth at some point, to the detriment of wildlife. There's no way to make this OK other than to stop doing it. (Read more about why latex balloons are not environmentally friendly.)
I predict this is something we'll be seeing a lot more of in the next year. First it was the Straw Wars; next up are the Balloon Battles.