How Sky Lanterns and Balloons Impact The Environment

The spectacle of the symbolic releasing of balloons and night sky lanterns is, without a doubt, a beautiful sight to behold and has become increasingly popular at festivals, weddings and other celebrations across the world.

For Filipinos, the event is oftentimes symbolic and can even be observed in occasions such as burials. But after traveling afloat for long distances and falling to the ground or waters, the burn-out and plastic remnants from the lanterns and balloons may not only litter the earth and seas, but can also hurt livestock and marine animals.

People and corporations should think twice about using sky lanterns and helium balloons as they pose threats to the environment, conservation group Haribon Foundation said.

“Balloons that are classified as biodegradable are made from natural latex,” the group echoed. According to Haribon, natural latex degrades naturally through mechanical means and light exposure which takes several months or even years to totally break down.

“It takes about four years for a latex balloon to completely decompose and when released in the air and eventually pops, its little pieces, which will highly end up in rivers and waterways, will have plenty of time for marine animals to mistake them for food,” maintained the group.

Marine mammals, sea turtles and seabirds can get either injured, entangled or killed due to discarded plastics found in the oceans. Bits of plastics are commonly mistaken for food which kills turtles, birds and fish.

According to Haribon Foundation, other plastic debris entangle or suffocate corals and many marine organisms causing them physical damage or mortality.

“Toxins and chemicals from plastics harm marine life and may get absorbed into the fish and other food source that we take in daily,” warned Haribon.

Almost 5 million pieces of tiny trash were collected from the world’s oceans in 2017. In the Philippines, nearly 1 million small plastics were found in our shorelines last year making it the most common coastal trash in the country today.

In Ohio, Cleveland, the huge balloon release stunt in 1986, dubbed the Balloonfest ‘86 ended up causing serious problems when almost 1.5 million mass-released latex balloons were blown back to the city due to a typhoon and created navigation issues for transport and rescue operations which caused traffic collisions and the death two local fishermen.

Several days after, the balloons clogged the roads and waterways in Ohio and some were reportedly washed ashore in Canada. The Guinness World Records has refused to recognize the event and has since no longer acknowledged record-breaking attempts that may prove harmful to the environment.

Just a week ago, indoor beach club Cove Manila’s ‘largest balloon drop’ of over 130,000 balloons for their New Year’s Eve countdown party failed to push through due to criticisms on its potential environmental impacts from concerned citizens and as a directive from the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources – Biodiversity Management Bureau.

Recently, a French restaurant in Cebu canceled its plans to release sky lanterns for the Sinulog festival following oppositions from netizens. The statement also cited the aborted plan of Okada’s Cove Manila to hold the biggest balloon drop in the world.

Previous reports have recorded massive structural and wildfires caused by malfunctioned candle-lit lanterns. In 2013, one sky lantern caused a vast 250-hectare wildfire in Washington in the United States that required 100 firemen to put out.

Like latex balloons, most sky lanterns are labeled as made of ‘biodegradable’ materials. According to advocate group Balloon Blow, sky lantern parts can take over a year to completely dissolve.

Haribon warns consumers about products marked as “biodegradable” as some of these materials such as ‘biodegradable plastics’ do not break down as fast as the label suggests. According to Haribon, anything that remains on land or water for an extended period of time becomes a threat to wildlife and nature.

“We want groups to be more environmentally-responsible in their decisions, to make choices that will promote the health of all forms of life, and not create threats to our environment today that may have irreversible effects in the future,” urged Haribon.

The use of balloons and sky lanterns are already banned in some parts of Australia, Germany, Spain, Vietnam and the United States.

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