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What goes up must come down; conservationists suggest alternatives to balloon releases

By Bob Gross

Who hasn’t had the experience of letting a helium-filled balloon go soaring into the atmosphere, climbing ever higher until it disappears?

And who among us has ever given thought to what happens once the helium leaks out of the balloon?

“Essentially, it’s pollution,” said Amy Meeker-Taylor, environmental educator for the Friends of the St. Clair River. “Whatever goes up, must come down.”

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Conservationists are reminding people that just because a balloon is out of sight, it’s not out of mind. When it comes down, it’s just as much trash as that candy bar wrapper or chips bag that missed the trash can.

Even balloons billed as being environmentally friendly really aren’t, Meeker-Taylor said

“Balloons that are biodegradable really don’t biodegrade,” she said. “The pieces just become smaller and smaller.

“And before they biodegrade they still can be ingested or become an entanglement hazard.”

Plastic pollution is becoming a real concern. Researchers, for example, have found micro-plastics throughout the Great Lakes. Those tiny pieces of plastic often are ingested by organisms including fish and birds.

Michigan Sea Grant has started a website where researchers are tracking balloon pollution. Go to to report found balloons.

Meeker-Taylor said one of the issues with balloon releases is they usually are done en masse.

“It’s a know-better, do-better thing,” she said, “When we were kids we rode in the front seats of our parents’ cars, and we don’t do that anymore.”

She also said releasing sky lanterns, powered by candles that generate hot air, is not a good idea.

“You’re still letting something go into the atmosphere that’s going to come down as trash,” Meeker-Taylor said. “It’s still sky litter.”

Instead of releasing balloons or sky lanterns, Meeker-Taylor suggests:

·         Blowing bubbles

·         Flying kites

·         Tossing wildflower seed balls

·         Floating leaves in rivers and streams

·         Painting rocks with relevant messages and placing them in a park or the community

·         Planting trees

For more information, go to the Friends of the St. Clair River website at Friends of the St. Clair River – Showing 40 miles of love to the St. Clair River and its watersheds since 2007

Bob Gross has been a journalist for 40 years in Michigan and Wyoming. He has covered subjects ranging from agriculture to zoology. He most recently covered courts and police for the Port Huron Times Herald.

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