Are Balloons Recyclable

Can You Recycle Balloons? How to Properly Dispose of Different Types of Balloons

If you’re living sustainably, recycling waste products is a subject of interest to you. Balloons signify celebrations and colorful fun times. You might wonder if it’s possible to exclude them when shopping for your party items. The question is, can you recycle balloons? What happens to the ones we use after the celebration is over? 

Balloons impact our planet negatively. Their adverse effects can last for decades, superseding the few hours of fun we have during our events. This article explains everything you need to know about them and answers your questions about balloon recycling. 

Are balloons recyclable?

Recycling collects and processes materials that you would otherwise throw away as trash and turns them into new products. To recycle a product means that you’re giving a used product a second life. Does this apply to all balloons? Simply put, no. 

Not all balloons are recyclable. Recycling centers do not accept balloons, mainly because their recycled form has no use in the market. For example, manufacturers make hot air balloons from nylon materials that are not recyclable for better use. The economics prevent them from recycling a product that has no alternative use, and they can’t reform into something useful for reuse.

However, a few recycling companies take mylar balloons for recycling since manufacturers make them from plastic materials. Typically, balloons won’t find their way into these centers for recycling if dropped in the recycle bin. Notwithstanding, few recyclers accept foil balloons, but they’ll instead advise you to dispose of them responsibly.  

So, if you’re interested in protecting the planet even during your celebrations, consider doing away with them. This is because recycling balloons isn’t a sustainable option. We have a resource specifically on the topic of alternatives to balloons and eco-friendly balloons.

Why are balloons harmful to our environment? 

how to recycle balloons
Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

A single balloon poses several hazardous environmental impacts. But we never use a single balloon at celebrations, right? We use many! We also release them into the air as a mark of joyous celebration. 

Balloons are lightweight, and when released into the air, they’ll later burst and land somewhere. Everything that goes up surely comes down; latex materials return to the land, into the sea, or just litter the ground. 

Here are the impacts they have on our planet: 

In the sea,

Marine creatures assume discarded balloons to be food. Animals like turtles, whales, and dolphins swallow these balloons while mistaking them as food and later die. A mylar balloon in water resembles a jellyfish which another sea creature would like to eat. 

Balloons keep their elasticity even after being in the water for a long time. Thus, they’ll pose harm to any creature that ingests them.

For land creatures,

Animals like sheep, desert tortoises, and dogs also assume them to be food. Upon taking it in, the balloon blocks their digestive tracts, and they cannot feed anymore. Later, these animals can die from starvation after ingesting a single balloon.

A study of sea turtles identifies balloon litter as one of the significant causes of death1.

For arboreal animals, 

The balloons we release into the air may end up in trees. Arboreal animals live in or among trees. These animals get attracted to the vibrant colors they come in and get caught up in the ribbon of a balloon. They may also ingest them. 

Helium depletion

Helium is plentiful in the universe. However, it is not an abundant element on earth. Helium is the chemical substance used in welding, lasers, MRI scanners, and infant ventilators. Interestingly, this is the same element used in filling balloons.

There’s a problem. We cannot manufacture helium artificially. Filling a balloon with helium means that you can’t gain that helium back. Rather than expend helium on tons of balloons produced annually, conserving helium for more worthwhile causes makes sound environmental sense.

Plastic Litter

Balloons find their way in the air quickly and can travel very far. A study showed that a fundraising balloon release traveled as far as 200 km2. Plastic is terrible for our environment, and balloons contribute a great deal of waste to the environment. 

Plastic waste is rising as a global concern because of its implications on the environment. Plastic and foil balloons, for example, do not degrade and may remain intact even after decades of disposal. Eventually, when exposed to sunlight, plastic balloons can form microplastics that have a negative environmental impact.

Let’s examine the types of balloons you’ll come across: 

Mylar balloons

A mylar balloon is also a foil balloon. Manufacturers make mylar balloons from nylon materials that have a metallic coating. They make some from synthetic materials like metalized plastic. Producers make them from plastic materials that may take decades to degrade. 

Mylar balloons may eventually biodegrade, but this will happen only after several years.  Mylar balloons, unlike latex balloons, are altogether harmful to the environment because they’re made from synthetic material.  

Latex balloons

Producers make latex balloons from a rubber tree. The bark of rubber trees produces a milky substance which manufacturers use for creating latex balloons. The good news is that since they sap latex from the bark of a rubber tree, harvesting latex does not result in cutting the trees down.

Latex balloons are usually biodegradable because of their organic nature. Although they are biodegradable, they’re not always recyclable. The rubber materials from which they make latex balloons are also not of good use to the recycling centers.  

Latex balloons pose as much harm to wildlife and the environment in the same way as mylar balloons. Ensure that you don’t let them go, but keep them for reuse. 

Are balloons compostable?

Yes, they are compostable. But, you need to be sure of the type of balloon you’re putting in the compost bin. A latex balloon, since it’s made from rubber, is compostable. However, it’ll take well over four months before decomposing. To aid speedy decomposition, you can shred the latex balloons into pieces before placing them in the compost bin.

On the other hand, do not put a foil balloon into the compost bin.

Recycling balloons isn't the best option. What other options do we have since we’re interested in protecting the planet? Here is what you can do with the balloons you already have.

Reuse your balloons after your event is over

Most assume that you can only use balloons once. However, you can keep used balloons after the party is over for future purposes. Do not release them into the air, nor should you throw them away. Think of it as giving your balloons a second life. 

Deflate your foil balloons after use and fold them in a safe place for subsequent use. When you have another celebration, you’ll find them useful again. You can also source a helium nozzle to top it up for the next use. 

Compost latex balloons

Though latex balloons are 100% biodegradable, dispose of them properly. That they are biodegradable means that their organic components can benefit the soil. Put the latex in a compost bin after usage. 

Proper disposal of balloons prevents them from getting caught in the trees or finding their way into the sea. 

Properly dispose of foil balloons

We understand that not all balloons are fit for reuse because many balloons get punctured after your special events, parties, and so on. Rather than dispose of them one by one, gather all used balloons in a paper bag. Shred foil balloons into pieces before disposing of them.

You can also place them in household waste so that they’ll decompose in the landfills. Properly disposing of our balloons reduces the harm they’ll pose to our environment. 

Decorate with a foil balloon

If you find yourself with leftover foil balloons that are not fit for use again, you can think of creative ways to use them for decorative purposes. Foil balloons come with fun and beautiful sayings and meaningful words after the special occasion are over, which can prove perfect for gift cards, scrapbooks, and other ideas. 

You can also cover rubber balls with oil balloons and hang them on a Christmas tree for Christmas decorations. This way, you aren’t trashing balloons but using them responsibly. 

Do not use balloons outdoors

If you’re using foil balloons, by all means, do not use them outdoors. This will reduce the chances of them flying away. 

Find recycling centers

You’ll need to find a recycling center accepting foil balloons for recycling. As we mentioned earlier, recycling centers will instead advise you to dispose of balloons properly than getting them recycled. This is because there are few practical uses where they can make use of recycled balloons. However, you can find places to get them recycled.

Below are other suggestions to help you reduce the usage of balloons outside parties and events.

Avoiding balloons in the first place

Change your gift wrapping

When wrapping gifts for loved ones, we usually use foil balloons because they’re colorful and attractive. However, that’s not the safest choice for our planet. Here are greener alternatives:

Furoshiki

This is a Japanese cloth traditionally used for wrapping belongings. Today, it’s a choice for sustainability enthusiasts when wrapping their gifts. You’ll only need your folding skills and a squared cloth. 

A gift bag

This is a good gift wrap alternative to a box that you might otherwise have decorated with balloons. A tote bag does the trick as well, and the recipient can always put it to other uses than the intended purpose. Rather than package the gift with foil balloons made from plastic materials, you’re opting for a safer option. 

Write your wish to make your event interesting

Releasing balloons truly adds color to events. But, it’s not good for our planet. How about asking everyone at the party to write their wishes? This way, you’re saving the planet from the negative impacts tens of balloons would have had on the environment.  

Paper flowers

Here’s an alternative to foil balloons in achieving a colorful and bright event. Paper flowers come in different colors, and you can purchase them. If you have an eye for creativity, a DIY paper flower is a good option for you. The good news is that you’ll also get to have a colorful event. 

Conclusion

We want a world free from land and sea pollution. So, it’s a no-no for us to keep using balloons because recycling isn’t a favorable option. Also, ensure that you use balloons responsibly and do your part in protecting land and sea creatures from death. 

You can find eco-friendly alternatives to balloons if you'd like to do away with them altogether. In achieving a greener planet, every action matters, not excluding a reduced use of balloons.

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1

Walde et al, 2007, Anthropogenic Threat to the Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii): Litter in the Mojave Desert www.researchgate.net page 147, Western North American Naturalist

2

Walde et al, 2007, Anthropogenic Threat to the Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii): Litter in the Mojave Desert www.researchgate.net page 147, Western North American Naturalist

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

Photo by Catalin Pop on Unsplash
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