Balloons 'don't magically disappear,' says environmental group, they 'pollute the Great Lakes'

Jun 21, 2019

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A University of Michigan Graduate student is calling on Michigan lawmakers to ban the ceremonial release of balloons. This comes after a Chicago based environmental group reported  that thousands of old balloons are polluting the Great Lakes.

For decades, the ceremonial release of balloons into the air has been widely accepted at weddings, graduations parades and sporting events; for instance, the Indianapolis 500 to this day releases around 40,000 balloons to mark the beginning of the race. For spectators, it may be visually stunning as the balloons ascend into the atmosphere, however, environmentalists at the Alliance for the Great Lakes say, what goes up, must come down.

“Balloons don’t just magically disappear, they ultimately end up somewhere else, and can have serious consequences for wildlife or pollution on our beaches and our lakes.”

That is the Alliance for the Great Lakes Vice President of Communications and Engagement Jennifer Caddick, she says a recent cleanup by Alliance volunteers documented 18,000 old balloons that were polluting the beaches and lakes. What’s worse she says, is so many wildlife suffocate when they try to swallow the balloons.

“It’s really amazing because it looks exactly like the little plankton that birds or fish eat, and so they mistake those plastic pieces for food.”

Meanwhile, University of Michigan Graduate Student Lara O’Brien is asking volunteers to report where, when and what types of balloons they discover on beaches or on the lakes. She says, it’s all with a single goal in mind:

“I’m hoping to use this data to hopefully create visual maps that I can present to policymakers, lawmakers in the state of Michigan, and hopefully persuade them to pass legislation to ban balloon releases in the state.”

So far, five states, California, Connecticut, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia have all banned balloon releases, with at least eight other state legislatures considering the idea. Michigan is not one of them.

Lara O'Brien's balloon tracking report can be accessed here: