Often balloons are marketed as being ‘biodegradable’ if they are made of latex. Firstly, other balloons (like helium and silver balloons) are not biodegradable, nor are the nylon strings used to tie them up. But latex balloons may ‘degrade in the same time as an oak leaf’. But that is six months – enough time for released balloons to float to the sky and burst into thousands of pieces, then drop to land (causing belly ulcers in cows – ask any farmer). Or 70% of released balloons land in the sea, where marine creatures (especially turtles who think they are their favourite food of jellyfish) eat them, and then die. One Yorkshire horse recently died from choking on a balloon, leaving her guardian devastated and heartbroken.
If you do decide to use balloons, only use them indoors and tie securely with raffia/jute. After use, deflate them slowly by snipping the knot at the bottom with scissors, then dispose of securely (along with the raffia or jute – don’t leave it in the garden as it’s a strangulation hazard for birds).
Balloons are also a major choking hazard. And without getting too graphic, if a child is choking on a balloon, it becomes near impossible to do CPR, as you would simply breathe in the mouth and inflate the balloon, making things worse. All for what? To release a few trashy items, to celebrate something?
Although not illegal yet nationwide, balloons releases are increasingly frowned on. If you know of one happening, you can find sample letters on how to stop a balloon release. This is not to be a party pooper, but to stop wildlife getting killed. Bouncy balls are also choking hazards and just as bad.
If you wonder what those metal items are on streets (they look like the refills for soda syphons), they are containers of nitrous oxides, used by drug addicts (laughing gas). But they are also sold with balloons, and when littered, kill countless wildlife.
Sorry (kites are not good either)
Although a traditional pastime, flying kites can wrap around birds’ necks and feets, and even slice off wings. Expert advice is to not fly kites, as they cause harm in the air, on land and at sea. If you use them, use biodegradable kites (avoid at dawn/dusk when birds more likely flying).
Don’t Release Doves or Butterflies
Most of these creatures die soon after release, as they can’t survive in the wild. There is a well-known photo of Pope Francis releasing a dove from The Vatican. As soon as the photo was taken, the ‘peace dove’ attacked by other wild birds, traumatising the children with him on the balcony. Did you know that during the Seoul Olympic ceremony, all of the doves released flew into the Olympic torch?
Please Don’t Release Fire Lanterns
Often used for Chinese celebrations, fire lanterns are serious fire hazards. They consist of paper lanterns with metal spikes, which remain after the lanterns burn, where they can puncture wildlife on land or sea. They also get mistaken for coastal flares, putting lifeboat crew lives at risk. The main hazard is fire (several animals recently died in a German zoo, when one dropped into an enclosure). And they could land on dry land (like setting a match to paper, which could cause serious wildfires).
Alternatives to Balloons & Lanterns
- Organise a nature walk in memory of a loved one. You could raise money for a good cause, at the same time (go for a local charity).
- There are many companies that offer services to do something in memory. Like naming a star in the galaxy after someone, ideal for sentimentalists.
- Ask your local place of worship to hold a service, then just collectively give a donation. Far more meaningful and nothing harmed.
- Hire a compassionate clown. Ask them not to use balloons. They do not use use live animals.
- Plant a celebration or memorial tree, avoiding toxic plants and trees near pets and horses (and the option of planting in public forests, if you can’t plant certain trees near animal friends).
Use Bunting Over Balloons
This beautiful bunting made from rescued books is made from a copy of The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. It also makes a lovely gift for the bookish or nature-loving recipient. In 1906 Edith Holden recorded in words and paintings the flora and fauna of the British countryside through the seasons, featured here. Be careful when buying bunting, as some versions contain leather.
The bunting has square ‘pages’ and is designed to be viewed from one side only (so not really suitable for outdoor use). It’s sold ready to hang on 3 metres of cream yarn (as opposed to the photo) and extends to almost 3ft if placed end to end – enough to spread the flags out. The flags you receive may differ slightly, as they are all obviously unique pages. Whichever flags you receive, expect autumn papers with pretty leaves, nuts, berries and toadstools, along with beautiful seasonal writing. The bunting is threaded with rescued cream wool, that would otherwise go to landfill.
Solar-Powered Sun Jars (over fire lanterns)
These solar-powered sun jars are really pretty. Just leave them near daylight for a few hours, and at night they turn into beautiful glowing lights, nothing else required. The jar gives off a ‘dappled sunlight’ appearance through the frosted waterproof glass. They are also a great way to display the wares in small shops at night, without worrying about electricity bills. Choose from a yellow, blue or pink light. Once charged, they will glow for up to 5 hours in the dark. You can even use them as battery-free nightlights for children, who are afraid of the dark.
The jars have no switch. They simply use a light sensor to switch on and off automatically. So it must be dark, for the light on the sun jar to come on. The jar contains an efficient solar cell, a rechargeable battery and LED lamp, so works best outside or near sunny window. If the weather is overcast, you may need to charge the lamp for a few days.
If you are planning a celebration and there’s no sun, there is the back-up option of using a standard AA rechargeable battery (never use a non-rechargeable battery) instead, still safer than a fire lantern. Just replace it for the solar panel in the lid. To remove moisture build-up, just empty out the water under the lid, and replace.
These also make a great alternative to fire lanterns, which are a fire hazard (several animals recently died in a German zoo, after one dropped into their enclosure). If the metal spikes land in the sea while burning, coastguards often mistake them for flares, and call out the lifeguards, putting lives at risk for no reason. In hot weather, they also cause wildfires, harming wildlife, land and putting firefighter safety at risk.
Just use a few of these instead, for a safe and eco-friendly way to have a celebration, with no wildlife harmed. For an alternative way to produce ‘glowing lights in lanterns’, then pop over to Patch of the Planet (the end of this post details the dangers to wildlife of fire lanterns, and offers a homemade wildlife-friendly alternative involving sand and tea lights). As they say ‘the owls will love you for it’.