According to recent reports, volunteer trash collectors found over 18,000 balloon fragments and strings along the shores of the Great Lakes since 2016. The extent of the litter was discovered through surveys that were handed out at events sponsored by the Alliance for the Great Lakes, an environmental nonprofit focused on cleaning up the lakes.
Alliance for the Great Lakes spokeswoman Jennifer Caddick, said that “It’s really dramatic and troubling. It paints a picture of the bigger plastic pollution problem plaguing the Great Lakes, our oceans, and really the entire planet.”
The survey was created by Lara O’Brien, a student at Clemson University’s School for Environment and Sustainability.
“I’ve seen a lot of people come together, gather and celebrate graduations, weddings, other celebrations, and they release balloons — and don’t really consider the consequences when the balloons come down,” O’Brien told USA Today.
She referenced a recent study conducted at the University of Tasmania, which showed that balloon debris is a huge danger to wildlife, especially birds. The study noted that balloon debris is 32 times more likely to kill birds than hard plastics.
Researchers looked at the cause of death of 1733 seabirds from 51 species and found that one in three of the birds had ingested some type of debris.
According to Lauren Roman, a Ph.D. student who led the study, although soft plastics accounted for just 5% of the items ingested they were responsible for over 40% of the deaths.
“Balloons or balloon fragments were the marine debris most likely to cause mortality, and they killed almost one in five of the seabirds that ingested them. As similar research into plastic ingestion by sea turtles has found, it appears that while hard plastic fragments may pass quickly through the gut, soft plastics are more likely to become compacted and cause fatal obstructions,” Roman said.
At least 5 states in the US have restricted or outright banned the intentional release of balloons. Currently, California, Connecticut, Florida, Tennessee, and Virginia all have laws to prevent the intentional release of balloons, while Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Maine are considering similar measures.
The Balloon Council, a group representing balloon manufacturers, has reportedly spent at least $1 million lobbying to prevent these laws across the country.
IMAGE CREDIT: Color Line/Flickr