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EcoWise: For a Festive and Eco-Friendly Party, Bypass Balloons

By Cathy Taylor

In this season of graduations and summer celebrations, it’s a good time to think about alternatives to that most popular of party decorations: balloons.

Unfortunately, balloons are harmful to the environment on three fronts. First, just like single-use plastic bags and straws, discarded balloons – particularly those that are released into the air — make their way into the environment where they do not biodegrade.

Pieces of balloons have been found nearly everywhere – including in the digestive tracts of animals, blocking their ability to absorb nutrients and slowly killing them. The texture and color can be particularly deceiving for marine animals, which can mistake them for food.

Second, balloon strings and ribbons can prove dangerous to animals, who routinely get tangled in them.

Third, party balloons are often inflated with helium, which is not a renewable resource and has more important uses, such as in the treatment of emphysema, the production of MRI scans and the manufacturing of semiconductor chips.

Unfortunately, balloons that are not made of plastic also miss the mark. Mylar, which has become a popular material for making balloons, comes with its own environmental hazards. Made of synthetic nylon with a metallic coating, it is not biodegradable.

Also beware of the many stores and sites that market “biodegradable” latex balloons. While natural latex is biodegradable, by the time the latex is treated with chemicals, plasticizers and dyes, the final product’s biodegradability slips. During that time, these so-called biodegradable alternatives can do plenty of damage to the environment.

But EcoWise doesn’t want to be a party pooper. Fortunately, there are many festive eco-friendly alternatives. Here are just a few:

Tissue paper flowers: These are easy to make and can be created in as much variety as there are colors of tissue paper.

Pinwheels: Part of the fun of having balloons at an outdoor gathering is watching them dance in the wind. Paper pinwheels can have the same effect without the environmental hazards.

Kites: If you’re tempted to do a balloon release, think of flying kites instead. It’s another way to get that uplifting feeling – but in an eco-friendly, reusable manner.

Flags: String small paper flags across the party area and watch them flutter in the wind.

Crepe paper: Crepe paper can be used in a number of different ways, not just as streamers.

Bunting: Bunting can be made out of a number of materials, from construction paper to fabric, and it’s an interesting way to tie a party theme into whatever you create.

Plants: Flowering plants make for great décor and are a particularly wonderful alternative if party-goers can plant them afterwards.

Painted rocks: These can be placed all over the party setting, adding color and imagination.

The Internet is full of balloon-free decorating ideas that can spur your imagination. Enjoy this season of celebration, and try looking beyond balloons.