Don’t Let Go. (Balloons and Chinese Lanterns) (May 2011)
What is it about releasing objects into the air that is so appealing? Helium balloons floating away into a blue sky or Chinese lanterns disappearing into the night. Do they in some small way take our troubles with them, or maybe remind us of the vastness of the universe, shrinking our problems in comparison? Or is it just a huge “hooray” or “thank you” that reaches to the sky?
Whatever our reasons, most of us would find our celebration tarnished if we knew of the potential consequences for both wild and farm animals. Parts of Helium balloons have been found in the stomachs of turtles, dolphins and whales, and last year the NFU called for a ban on Chinese lanterns which pose a risk to farm animals, wildlife and to property. The wire in the lanterns can be fatal if accidentally eaten by animals and they are a clear fire risk.
The industry has been quick to respond. Biodegradable balloons are now widespread, but have you ever wondered what biodegradable actually means? It means, of course, that it will degrade. But it will take time. The Marine Conservation Society has a “Don’t let go” campaign. It says, ” Balloons floating in seawater deteriorate at a much slower rate than a latex balloon on land. Some balloons retain their elasticity for well over a year. But however long it might take for balloons to degrade, they can certainly stay intact in an animal’s gut long after ingestion, and long enough to cause death by starvation.”
Maybe the new wire-free lanterns are safer for animals, but there is still the fire risk, and according to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) last year saw a significant increase in the number of lifeboat callouts to false alarms caused by Chinese lanterns.
The surest solution to celebrate without leaving the world with the hang-over is “Don’t let go!”