Balloon releases and sky lanterns are a familiar sight at festivals, birthdays, weddings, memorials and on New Year’s Eve. But, what goes up must come down. After guests disperse and the other decorations have been packed away, the balloons and lantern frames that create a few moments of happiness will litter the surrounding area for months or even years.
Balloons, sky lanterns, and plastic confetti aren’t recyclable and take years to biodegrade. They break into smaller and smaller pieces until they turn into microplastics, which are consumed by fish, birds, turtles, and other wildlife.
More than 270 experts recentlyrated balloons as one of the major threatsto marine mammals, seabirds, and turtles.
- Researchers at The University of Tasmania examined more than 1700 deceased seabirds and found nearly one in five died from ingesting a balloon or balloon pieces. Soft plastics represented just five percent of the debris ingested but caused 40 percent of deaths.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service posteddisturbing imagesof dead wildlife on their website in an effort to convince people to stop releasing balloons.
Sky Lanterns Are Not a Sustainable Alternative to Balloons
Some consider sky lanterns, also known as fire lanterns, as acceptable alternatives to balloon releases. Unfortunately, sky lanterns are not environmentally friendly. “Biodegradable” lanterns made of bamboo take decades to break down and can injure or entrap animals in the meantime.
They can also start dangerous fires. More than 30 animals died in Germany afterfloating lanterns started a fire inside a local zoo.
Sky lanterns endanger people as well:
- In India, a sky lantern landed on a shop roof. The resulting fire destroyed four nearby homes, and 15 people were injured.
- Sky lanterns have caused flight delays at major airports inChina,Thailand,and other countries. Just one lantern could take down a plane if it got sucked into a jet engine.
Many countries have banned sky lanterns, including Argentina, Austria, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Germany, New Zealand, and Spain. Thirty US states have also banned sky lanterns, as have some parts of Canada.
Furthermore, Wales in the UK has banned sky lanterns on all council land since 2018, but they remain legal in England and Scotland. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), Marine Conservation Society, and other groups urge concerned citizens in the UK to contact their MP.
Eco-Friendly and Safe Alternatives to Balloon Releases and Sky Lanterns
Sending lanterns aloft or releasing colorful balloons is a symbolic way to memorialize a loved one. But when you think about it, these activities are basically littering. It’s worth asking, is that a respectful way to honor someone or a special day?
While it can be hard to break with tradition, there are plenty of eco-friendly alternatives to confetti, mass balloon releases and sky lanterns. Here are a few of our favorite ways to celebrate and memorialize that don’t endanger animals or local communities.
1. Kite Flying
Choose a color, style, or shape to fit any event theme! Kites are typically made from lightweight and durable materials, ensuring they can be used repeatedly without creating pollution. Additionally, kite flying is a sustainable activity as it utilizes wind power, a clean and renewable energy source. Unfortunately, balloon releases and sky lanterns rely on non-renewable resources, like helium or fire, but kite flying harnesses the natural power of the wind. Moreover, kite flying promotes outdoor engagement, physical activity, and a sense of wonder, connecting individuals to nature and fostering a greater appreciation for the environment.
2. Luminarias or Reusable Luminaries
Luminarias or reusable luminaries are a great, eco-friendly alternative to balloon releases and sky lanterns due to their minimal environmental impact. They typically consist of small candles or LED lights placed in paper bags filled with sand (or mason jars), creating a warm and ambient glow. They do not create litter or pose fire hazards, making them a safe and sustainable choice for adding a touch of elegance and illumination to events or gatherings.
3. Origami Whales
Invite party guests to help create a pod of origami whales! Origami whales can be crafted using recycled paper, reducing waste and promoting sustainability. They symbolize appreciation for marine life and serve as a reminder of the importance of protecting our oceans, without posing any risks to wildlife or the environment. It’s easier than you may think. Just watch this video!
4. Plant a Tree or Flowers
Planting a tree or flower creates a symbolic, long-lasting, eco-friendly memorial that honors a loved one and the earth. Planting is an exceptionally eco-friendly alternative to balloon releases and sky lanterns, because it actively contributes to the preservation and restoration of the environment. By planting trees, flowers, or native plants, we help combat climate change, improve air quality, and provide habitat for wildlife. Additionally, planting activities foster a sense of connection to nature and promote environmental stewardship, inspiring individuals to take an active role in caring for the planet. It is a tangible and sustainable way to celebrate and make a positive impact on the ecosystem.
5. Stone Painting
If you don’t have space to plant something, place a painted rock or stone somewhere meaningful. This will eliminate the need for single-use items that contribute to waste and pollution. Stones are natural and abundant materials that can be found locally, reducing the carbon footprint associated with their acquisition. Unlike balloons and sky lanterns, painted stones do not pose a risk of littering or endangering animals. They can be enjoyed as decorative pieces or hidden as part of a community scavenger hunt, fostering a sense of connection to nature and promoting sustainability. Just be sure to use eco-friendly paints wherever possible.
6. Lantern Painting
Instead of releasing sky lanterns, organize a lantern painting activity. Lantern painting is a fantastic, eco-friendly alternative, because it allows for creative expression without any negative impact on the environment. By engaging in lantern painting activities, participants can decorate and personalize lanterns, resulting in beautiful displays without the risk of fire hazards or littering. This alternative promotes sustainability, artistic expression, and a sense of celebration while respecting and preserving the natural world.
7. Bubble Blowing
Divers love blowing bubbles underwater, and it’s just as fun topside! Bubble blowing is a wonderful eco-friendly alternative, as it produces no waste or litter that can harm the environment. The non-toxic bubble solutions used in bubble blowing ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for both participants and the ecosystem. Moreover, bubble blowing provides a fun and interactive activity that can be enjoyed by people of all ages, creating magical moments without any negative ecological impact. Here’s a recipe for a bubble solution made with eco-friendly dish soap.
8. Biodegradable “Confetti” or Seed Bombs
Instead of plastic confetti, throw something natural, like birdseed, flower petals, or dried autumn leaves. You can also create seed bombs by mixing clay, compost, and native wildflower or tree seeds. Participants can throw them in suitable areas, promoting reforestation and the growth of pollinator-friendly plants.
9. Pinwheels, Ribbon Wands, and Bells
Pinwheels, ribbon wands, and bells are exceptional eco-friendly alternatives to balloon releases and sky lanterns due to their numerous advantages. Firstly, they have minimal environmental impacts, as they are typically made from sustainable materials and do not contribute to pollution or waste. Additionally, they are reusable, reducing the need for single-use items and promoting sustainability. For wildlife, they eliminate the risks of ingestion and entanglement. Moreover, these alternatives offer interactive and engaging experiences, fostering a sense of joy and celebration without harming animals or the environment. Their versatility allows them to be used in various settings and, not to mention, they are cost-effective. With their eco-friendly attributes and ability to create a festive atmosphere, these alternatives truly shine as sustainable choices for celebrations and gatherings.
10. Digital Fireworks
Replace traditional fireworks with digital alternatives. Virtual reality (VR) or digital fireworks create stunning visual displays using projection mapping technology, reducing the environmental impact associated with traditional fireworks. When using this projection mapping technology, you can create epic shows without the noise and air pollution associated with pyrotechnics.
More eco-freindly ideas for Your Lifestyle
Ways to Make Other Aspects of Your Celebrations More Eco-Friendly
We recognize that balloon releases and sky lanterns aren’t the only way celebrations can take a toll on the environment. Think about all the aspects of your next celebration when you’re in the planning stage, and you’ll be surprised where you can make your event better for the environment. Here are a couple of things to think about.
We all want our kids to have amazing birthdays, and there’s no doubt that a cake plays a part in that. It’s easy (and quick) to pick up store-bought cakes and cupcakes, but the packaging isn’t phenomenal. Consider a muffin-making party, make the cake yourself, or ask a friend who’s handy in the kitchen to help.
Making a cake isn’t the only eco-friendly option for kids’ birthdays. Buying eco-friendly supplies, such as biodegradable plates, cups, and decorations, is equally important in ensuring a sustainable celebration that minimizes environmental impact. Nowadays, there are plenty of ways to promote a greener lifestyle and instilling environmental consciousness from a young age.
eco-friendly school supplies for kids
If you are fortunate enough to live in an area with easy access to green spaces, a stretch of beach, or a place that holds priceless memories, consider a walk that you repeat on special occasions or a picnic spot that you revisit for these events.
A memorial plaque or bench are other great alternatives to balloon releases and sky lanterns, and they are a wonderful way to honor someone. It doesn’t need to cost the planet or your pocket. You can get creative with homemade ideas and natural materials. This will also be more sentimental than something purchased.
What About Biodegradable Balloons? Are They Safe for Wildlife?
You may have found information that latex balloons biodegrade “as quickly as an oak leaf.” This would be true if balloons were made from 100 percent natural latex, but they’re not. Biodegradable balloons are made from latex processed with dyes, plasticizers, and other chemicals.Research shows that balloons marketed as biodegradable take years to fully decompose. During that time, they can become the last meal of a hungry bird, turtle, or beloved neighborhood pet. Additionally, the ribbon attached to the balloons can cause serious injuries or even strangle birds, marine life, or other animals who become entangled.
Be The Change
Whatever alternatives to balloon releases and sky lanterns you choose, think about the individual components. Are you able to tell if the materials are actually biodegradable? Can you make changes to better our planet? The ideas above are just a few ways to enhance a wedding, birthday, event, memorial, or other event without creating an environmental hazard. Help us spread the word about these environmentally-friendly alternatives, and let us know about the other ways you like to celebrate!
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Learn More about the PADI AWARE Foundation
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