Balloon releases, which is the practice of releasing a large number of balloons filled with helium into the sky, is a fairly common practice, but it’s also an environmentally destructive practice. Balloon releases happen to commemorate things like sporting events and graduations. They can also be used ceremonially to remember people who have passed away or celebrate those who have been born.
These balloon releases are sometimes connected to very emotionally charged moments, and although the imagery of the balloons rising into the sky can be inspiring and bring us hope, we have to acknowledge that they do cause issues when they eventually come floating back to Earth.
There are some great alternatives to balloon releases, but first, let’s talk about alternatives that you should avoid.
Don’t release ‘biodegradable’ balloons
Balloon manufacturers sometimes tout the biodegradability of their latex balloons, but there’s more to this than meets the eye. Natural latex is absolutely biodegradable, but latex used to make balloons often have dyes, chemicals, and plasticizers added to them. This compromises the ability of the latex to degrade naturally.
Something else to take into consideration is the length of time a balloon needs in order to naturally break down. A balloon may biodegrade in a week, a month, or a year, but in the time it takes to degrade, it still poses a threat to the environment and the wildlife that call this planet home.
Don’t release paper ‘sky lanterns’
Paper sky lanterns, sometimes called Chinese lanterns, are not a suitable alternative to a balloon release. Sky lanterns are able to get their upward lift due to the candle that burns inside of them. An open flame contained inside of a paper lantern released into the natural environment is a picture-perfect way to start a wildfire. Paper lanterns have been responsible for fires and physical injury.
Don’t release birds
Another popular but problematic alternative to balloon releases is the practice of releasing birds. Domesticated pigeons and doves are a popular type of bird to release, but experts advise against the release of any type of domesticated bird. According to pigeonrescue.org:
“The “dove release” business perpetuates the idea that white birds can be “set free” and they will just fly away and live happily ever after. Even under the best of circumstances, trained “wedding doves” are hurt, lost and killed trying to get home. It’s even worse when do-it-yourselfers mistakenly buy white Ringneck Doves and King Pigeons to release. Nearly all of them will die.”
Don’t release butterflies
Butterfly releases may seem fairly innocuous, but in fact by raising and releasing butterflies for a butterfly release, you may be releasing them to an uncertain fate. According to a paper published by NABA:
“Butterflies raised by unregulated commercial interests may spread diseases and parasites to wild populations, with devastating results. Often, butterflies are released great distances from their points of origin, resulting in inappropriate genetic mixing of different populations when the same species is locally present.”
“When it is not, a non-native species is being introduced in the area of release. At best, this confuses studies of butterfly distribution and migration; at worst, it may result in deleterious changes to the local ecology. The Hollywood Jurassic park message, “Don’t fool with Mother Nature,” has scientific foundations. Recently a high profile report in Science magazine found that even the careful introduction of species for biological control often causes unexpected negative results.”
Above, we’ve detailed balloon release alternatives that are not ideal. Now, let’s talk about better alternatives.
Plant a tree
Planting a tree is a great way to commemorate an important moment, like the birth of a new family member or the passing of a loved one. Every single tree has an important impact, from cleaning the air to providing the oxygen we humans need to breathe! Many types of trees will live on long after we’ve passed on, allowing us to leave a positive mark on our planet for generations to come.
Plant a garden
Planting a tree is a great way to commemorate an event, but planting a garden can be just as effective. Planting perennial flowers means your garden won’t need to be replanted each year, making it an ideal way to remember someone who played an important part of our lives. If you’d like some ideas, these are 10 bee-friendly flowers you can plant.
Folding paper into different origami animals and objects is a fun way to commemorate important moments in life. The process of folding the paper allows us to focus and clear our minds, giving us time to reflect on the people and moments important in our lives. And when you’re done, you have a physical representation of the time spent reflecting.
None of the items on this list replicate the feel of watching balloons soar into the sky. If you want to see your hopes and dreams take flight, consider flying kites instead of releasing balloons. These kites are tethered to you by string and (hopefully) won’t be going anywhere. You’ll still get the enjoyment of watching them whip around in the sky above you.
Commemorate without doing anything
Celebrating a special moment doesn’t need to involve making, releasing, or doing anything in particular. Gathering people together to talk, share stories, drink, and be merry is all it takes to remember the most important people and moments in our lives.