Releasing Thousands of Balloons to Ring in the New Year Is an Awful Idea

A balloon release in Hong Kong in 2011.
Photo: AP

New Year’s Eve is all about the glam, the glitter, and the gluttony. We do everything in excess, including all those unnecessary balloons.

In New York City, visitors will be given 25,000 purple and yellow balloons to wave as they brave the Times Square madness to celebrate the new year. While those balloons are meant to be held and then disposed of, other celebrations, like those at Japan’s Tokyo Tower, usually involve visitors releasing balloons. Ditto for San Paolo, Brazil, where revelers released 50,000 balloons into the sky on Friday in a year-end celebration that’s been going on for 26 years, reports Agencia EFE.

This is a good opportunity to remind you that releasing thousands of synthetic decorations into the sky to eventually wind up in our waterways is a terrible idea.

Ballons, which are typically made of latex, dye, and other chemicals, are some of the worst garbage for our oceans, according to a 2015 paper in Marine Policy. These products are often marketed as “biodegradable,” but plenty can happen in the years balloons take to break down. Marine creatures may mistake them for food and die, or birds can become entangled in them. Even if they make their way into a trash can like they are supposed to, at best they’re going to wind up in a landfill where they may sit for years.

Concern over the environmental hazard balloons pose ended an annual balloon release at South Carolina’s Clemson University earlier this year. Some East Coast island communities like Rhode Island’s Block Island and Nantucket, Massachusetts, have also banned the sale of the products.

And more places are turning a new leaf come 2019. A resort in the Philippines canceled plans to release 130,000 balloons at a New Year’s Eve party after environmental groups like Greenpeace and the Climate Reality Project protested. The country’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources even sent organizers at Okada Manila, the resort, a letter Sunday urging them to abort their plans to attempt to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records with the ill-advised balloon release.

Now, the partygoers of Manila won’t have to feel guilty about partaking in a mass pollution event as they ring in the new year. The same can’t necessarily be said for my fellow New Yorkers who are bound to litter Times Square with their balloons (which are just part of the 50 tons of trash the evening generates). While many of those balloons will get picked up the following day, it’s unlikely they all will with winds and rains forecasted for the last night of 2018.

What a way to start the new year.

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