Hold your helium
The 2020 plastic ban has left some consumers frustrated, making many speculative about its intentions and the associated impacts on daily domestic life.
Although much talk has been targeted at plastic bags and the other banned items, unfortunately absent from public discourse is the banning of the release of balloons.
According to section 5 subsection (1) of the Environmental Protection (Control of Plastic Pollution) Act, “No person shall release any number of balloons at or about the same time if such balloons are filled with gas that causes them to rise in the air” making the release of balloons a fineable offense unless they are released –
(a) unintentionally and without negligence;
(b) inside a building or structure and does not make its way into the open air; or
(c) for scientific purposes, including meteorological purposes.
Environmentalists and concerned citizens have long lamented that as these festive colored orbs float feverishly into the air, they often become tangled in trees and ground infrastructure, causing harmful disturbances to life on land like birds, and disruptions in the transmission of services.
What goes up must come down.
Beyond land, when balloons rise and come to an unceremonious fall, they litter our marine environments.
Balloons and their strings often entangle, choke, and kill marine animals, interfering with our increasingly fragile marine environs.
Most of us have either heard of or seen an unfortunate image of a suffocating sea turtle unable to eat because it mistook a sparkling popped balloon as its mid-afternoon snack or seen the remains of a seagull strangled to death by some brightly colored balloon string.
The majority of today’s balloons are made of latex.
Latex typically takes between six months and four years to degrade, leaving it to decorate your nearest sandy shoreline with lots of time to be ingested by an unsuspecting animal.
The popular mylar balloons, the metallic shiny looking kind typically adorned with children’s cartoon character faces, are said to never degrade at all. These balloons only exacerbate the issue of the release of toxins and the introduction of microplastics into our environment.
Moreover, essential to this discussion is also the scarcity of helium, a non-renewable resource.
Is it reasonable or sustainable to continue using such a precious resource for such an unproductive use?
Will depleting the world’s accessible helium cause a steep rise in its cost? Will future scarcity affect the future of our MRI scanners, fiber optics, or LCD screens?
Admittedly, there is something whimsical about seeing a lifeless balloon reach for the heavens.
However, the consequences of our actions are not often considered. I argue that balloons should be given their moment in the national spotlight, to bring awareness to a relatively small, but significant problem.
I support the legislation and implore citizens to keep a firm hold onto your balloons, find alternative ways to create tributes and celebrate life’s memorable moments in more environmentally conscious ways.
The more you know, the less we will have to pay.
– Winton Cooper