The short answer: Yes and No. Let’s take a look at the facts and a few studies so that you can better understand where we are in the process of creating a more consistent biodegradable solution for balloons.
First of all, what are traditional balloons made of? They are made of materials such as rubber, latex, polychloroprene, metalized plastic or a nylon fabric. Of these traditional materials, latex is believed to be the most sustainable and here is why:
- 100% latex balloons are made from natural rubber that comes from tapping a rubber tree. While the latex is harvested, the tree is not being harmed.
- When latex is processed, each part of the product is used.
- Once a rubber tree no longer produces latex, it is harvested and it’s wood is turned into lumber.
- Every year the mature trees are tapped, old trees are harvested and new trees are planted in their place.
100% latex balloons will completely biodegrade in 6 months in a compost bin some studies have found. More specifically, a company called Qualatex claims to produce 100% biodegradable balloons. However, numerous organizations who are positioned as anti-balloon usage like BalloonsBlow.org, claim that in the process of adding colors, etc. to the balloons, the latex has been altered and therefore cannot biodegrade as marketed.
For example, The Conversation (theconversation.com) conducted a study with what is claimed to be several different brands of biodegradable balloons. To summarize their findings, they found that: If the balloon goes into a landfill, it could stay intact for decades. Any balloon that contains mixed material will not biodegrade for a very long time – if at all. So technically 100% latex balloons are biodegradable when disposed of correctly.
The issue of properly verifying if a company in fact only uses 100% latex in their product is a bit of a gray area. The documentary Rubber Jellyfish explains the history and shows the negative impacts that balloons have had on our environment for decades now. You can watch the reduced length version below.
As you’ll see in the video above, one of their sources of data stated the complete opposite of the findings in the experiment that was conducted by The Conversation (theconversation.com) where they found that:
After 16 weeks the balloons that claimed to be biodegradable – were not. The balloons that were treated with saltwater lost 1% to 2% mass during the 16 weeks and the balloons that were treated with freshwater actually gained mass – likely due to osmotic absorption of water.
So coming from a middle ground here, the 1980s study cited in the video above seems to be a bit bias and we need some more data from people who do not have a financial tie to the balloon industry in order to come to some kind of a conclusion. Either way, when released, balloons can end up in the environment and they are causing a major problem for terrestrial and marine animals which makes it essential to figure out a real biodegradable solution sooner than later.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below on this subject. Also let me know if you have conducted any studies on this, and if so, what were your findings?