Undoubtedly, releases continue to be popular for a number of reasons, including their ability to create a brief sentimental or emotional experience. Often, they are replicated by individuals that had a meaningful experience earlier, and wish to share the same with others. Perhaps it was at a funeral, end of camp ceremony, start of a major sporting event, or other types of activities.
For those who have engaged in a balloon release that was well facilitated, it may have had a lasting impact, and therefore its hard to argue against having balloon releases that may impact the thoughts and emotions of a participant.
As part of our tours, we ask every passenger to join us as we visit our world treasures, to pick up 10 items of trash per day, and hope they will continue to do so as they explore the world on their own. We see a lot of plastic bottles & bags. So many cigarette butts its shameful, as well as many other types of trash waste - some that isn't fit to be picked up by a tourist.
One item we encounter often are balloons. Far too many to justifiably have come from a child losing one when returning from the local restaurant, or a weekend fair. No - these are likely coming from mass balloon releases. We find them everywhere - National Parks, city streets, scenic vistas, beaches - just everywhere!
So it begs a few questions - what is the impact of balloon releases? Does the environmental impact outweigh the human gratification?
When balloon releases became a target of environmentalists, there as an effort by the balloon industry to use research to quantify how low the environmental impact of balloon releases purportedly are. This was a smart move on their part, as the scientific report did quell the outrageous accusations that was coming from the environmental groups. One problem - the research was flawed.
Largely, the report was based solely on laboratory experiments, and math calculations derived from those experiments to project an outcome. It was a good place to start, but failed to back up the research with real world field data and observation. In short, what happens in the lab, may not actually be happening in the world, and in this case, their lab observations were not reality.
1. They proposed that the vast majority of balloons released, rise to about 28,000 feet, shattering to small pieces, and then are dispersed by the wind across the earth. A photo of one that was actually captured by a GoPro camera can be found HERE.
2. They also claimed that the balloons released biodegrade as rapidly as an oak leaf, if left in the same environmental conditions as the leaf.
Herein the problem lies:
1. None of their experiments were on actual balloons that burst 28,0000 feet in the air. Even the picture of one from space linked above, didn't shatter, and become lots of little pieces, but shredded, still knotted in the end holding all the pieces together, to look like - perhaps a jellyfish. Every balloon is going to burst differently. How full it is at time of release will impact at what altitude it will burst, as will the age of the latex balloon, how long it has sat in the sun, and other important environmental factors. I suspect that far too many rupture at much lower altitudes, and create the amount of balloon litter that is found.