Ever Heard of the Powerful Balloon Council?

CC BY 2.0. hojusaram -- Environmentalists would like to see a ban on balloon releases like this one; the Balloon Council disagrees.

For almost 30 years the Council has been fighting against regulation that would limit balloons for environmental reasons.

When Senator Jim Whelan introduced a bill in early 2017 that would ban balloon releases in his state of New Jersey, he did not expect to come up against a powerful balloon lobby group. The Balloon Council's fight was so stubborn and well-funded that Whelan's bill fell through and it was never released for a full debate. (It also lost its biggest champion when Whelan died of a heart attack in August 2017.) Now a new version is up for consideration, one that would prohibit the “intentional release of balloons inflated with lighter-than-air gases,” but based on the Balloon Council's track record, it does not look promising.

An article by Michael Waters for The Outline states that the Balloon Council has spent more than $1 million in the last five years. It is a force to be reckoned with, and yet many people are surprised to find out it even exists.

The Council was founded in 1990 in response to mounting accusations throughout the late '80s that balloons were killing wildlife, primarily sea turtles and whales that would ingest fallen balloons and either suffocate or have their digestive tracts blocked. Since then, the Council has tackled numerous state government attempts to limit balloons, claiming in part that bans would hurt mom-and-pop shops that relied on selling balloons. Waters writes:

"Today, in large part because of its efforts, only five states have environmental balloon restrictions on the books. Welcome to one of America’s most expensive B-list political fights."

As Waters explains, the fight revolves mainly around whether or not balloons kill animals. Environmental groups repeatedly provide examples of dead animals with balloons in their stomachs or entangled with strings, while the Council says this doesn't prove anything:

"The Balloon Council maintains they have yet to be presented with convincing evidence that balloons have contributed to the death of a single animal, although when pressed, [it] did not clarify what such evidence would look like."
dead turtle

© Balloons Blow

Understandably, this infuriates environmental activists. Maris Sidenstecker, executive director of Save the Whales, told Waters:

“To say there is no impact is completely ludicrous. [A balloon] doesn’t break down and it causes the animal to choke, or it plugs up the opening of their stomach."

Indeed, evidence is strong against balloons. Balloons Blow is one organization that offers fact sheets in multiple languages and disturbing photos of balloon-littered beaches and suffocated animals in an attempt to turn public opinion against this odd form of entertainment. It features a Wall of Shame, with photos of branded balloons that have been found in nature:

pizza hut balloon

© Balloons Blow -- Pizza Hut has obviously been using balloons for promotion!

The Council claims it cares about the environment, too, saying, "One death of anything is too many." Its response has been to create a cartoon balloon of Michael Faraday, inventor of the balloon, and take it to schools and press conferences to talk about balloon safety.

Meanwhile, New Jersey waits to see if the new version of Whelan's bill will pass. Says N. Dini Checko, a director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, "I’d love to see it pass. This is not curing cancer."

Regardless of what happens, individuals can make a difference by choosing not to buy balloons. Visit Balloons Blow for alternatives for group celebrations, such as planting, drumming, paper streamers, flags, kites, ribbon dancers, pinwheels, floating flowers, tissue paper pompoms, and more.