I bought a bag of balloons recently for my 92-year-old mother who is leading an exercise class in her Holland retirement community. She wanted the balloons for an activity that involves batting about balloons with swim noodles. She tells me it is the most fun and the most strenuous of all the exercises.
I am not anti-balloons. I am against releasing them into our skies. There is a difference.
In 2018, volunteers participating in the Alliance for the Great Lakes beach cleanups picked up 4,415 balloons. Those of us who walk the beaches on a regular basis pick up thousands more. In addition to littering, balloons released into the skies cause enough damage that five states and numerous cities have banned the mass release of balloons. None are in the Great Lakes region.
The good news is we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program and the Clean Virginia Waterways of Longwood University—through grants from NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management—have created a website documenting five years of research on the damage caused by floating balloons and they provide alternative ways to celebrate. (http://preventballoonlitter.org)
The photos tell the story. Wildlife starved because they mistakenly ingested balloon remnants as food. Birds entangled in ribbons, hampering their ability to fly. Livestock spooked and injured because floating balloons caused confusion. Mylar balloons tangled in power lines, their metallic coating melting and causing power outages, even sparking fires. And while latex balloons are considered “biodegradable,” the studies show they can take as long as six years to decompose when exposed to periods of time in water.
In 2007, the fourth grades classes of Quincy Elementary School in Zeeland, under the leadership of teachers Kathy Nemeth and Donna Atman, launched a “Don’t Let it Fly or the Great Lakes Will Cry” campaign to eliminate balloons from the skies above the Great Lakes. They collected enough balloon evidence while cleaning up Saugatuck Dunes State Park to convince the two high school principals and the school district of Zeeland to ban the mass release of balloons at all school functions. They graduated eight years later in balloon-free ceremonies.
What if we, in Michigan, relaunched their campaign?
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