Are the days of birthday party balloons coming to an end?

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

They kill birds, pollute the environment and take years to break down. After plastic bags and plastic straws, balloons are fast becoming the new stink item you don't want to take to a party or tie to your mailbox for kids' birthday parties. 

Balloon artists claim natural rubber is biodegradable but environmental experts say it take years to decompose, especially if they end up in rivers and the ocean, where degradation times are longer.

Balloon releases are especially harmful, they say, with balloon remains ending up in the ocean, killing marine wildlife. They are less harmful when safely disposed of but still as wasteful as any other single-use item such as plastic bags.

One Christchurch mum says she wishes birthday party balloons had become socially unacceptable like plastic straws. 

"It's sad we're perpetuating this culture of short-term gratification for our kids but ultimately leaving them with the huge long-term problem of a poisoned environment".

She does not want to come across as the "fun police" and understand parents have a hard time giving up on balloons because they want their kids to enjoy themselves.

"I would never want to 'shame' anyone but I wish people would educate themselves about single-use plastic."

Another mum, who agreed to be identified by her first name, Clare, says: "honestly kids parties are the worst".

"I went to a party shop once and literally couldn't buy anything because it was all plastic and glittery disposable crap."


She says balloons are still associated with joy and celebration in people's minds - like confetti at weddings.

"Ultimately, they are not needed. But I'm not turning up to parties and looking for eco-crimes."

Balloonologist Pippity Pop is part of the Pro Environment Balloon Alliance, an industry lobby group promoting correct disposal of balloons and taking a stand against balloon releases.

She noticed people were starting to ask questions about the environmental impact of balloons in the last six to eight months.

But she is adamant rubber latex "is actually compostable and will break down".

Waste consultant and Waste Management Institute New Zealand chair Darren Patterson says it is true latex breaks down eventually but so does plastic.

The problem is it takes a long time.

If balloons are thrown away in the bin and end up in the landfill, it is a waste of resources but not as big a threat for the environment as balloon releases.

So is it okay to use balloons at a child's birthday party as long as they are safely disposed of at the end?

Patterson is loathe to tell people what to do but says single-use items are wasteful.

In the last year, there has been a "huge shift in attitudes" over plastic bags, he says.

"We have now moved onto plastic straws and I can see balloons and takeaway coffee cups next in that movement."

"We need to be reusing things."

He suggested not tying balloons up completely so they could be deflated and reused.

ALTERNATIVES has a handy list of alternatives to balloons.

For parties, they suggest:

  • Ribbon dancers
  • Kites and garden spinners
  • Bunting
  • Pinwheels
  • Tissue paper pompoms

Instead of balloon releases, they suggest:

  • Floating flowers
  • Tree planting
  • Jump roping
  • Mass gatherings to create a shape
  • Lighting candles

 - Stuff NZ