Wedding party pooper: Balloons are harming wildlife

Rice isn’t a threat to wildlife, but balloons sure are!

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Photo credit: Rafael Garcin/Unsplash

Coronavirus has set off a surplus of wedding cancellations worldwide during the summer months. With people hesitant (or banned) to meet in big groups, they have no choice but to put off their plans. Maybe the engaged couple will go to a courthouse instead, or maybe they have a much smaller wedding ceremony. The good news is wedding cancellations may save them from spending anywhere from $19K to $53K (depending on the state).

The bad news — on top of not being able to get deposits back — is people will get more creative to make their small weddings somehow cooler. Frankly, going to a local courthouse doesn’t have the same pizzazz as the big event. (Not everybody can be my grandfather, who thought a honeymoon meant going to White Castle to grab a few sliders.)

So wedding planners or the bride and groom get creative. They decide they’ll do the kinds of things that are done at traditional wedding ceremonies and don’t involve 6-foot distance stickers or face masks. While there’s a much larger list of things that are just fine to do — like throwing rice at a wedding, which does not kill birds, although this is a common belief — there are some non-eco-friendly wedding traditions that really need to be done away with.

What’s at the top of the list? Skip the balloons. As pretty as they are on chairs, centerpieces and bouquet table ends, they’re doing a disservice to beaches, rivers and ocean life. Here’s why.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, each balloon that blows off into the wind usually ends up caught on a tree or electric wire. Because it’s not deflated correctly, it can often end up in the water and along shores, which creates marine debris. While the balloons have freed themselves as the backdrop of a wedding or wedding reception, they become an accidental food source for marine wildlife. If eaten and digested, this can reportedly lead to death, internal injuries, nutrition loss and/or starvation for marine wildlife.

While the married couple is just trying to find something pretty and colorful at their wedding — and a way to busy small children once they’ve said, “I do,” — those “harmless” balloon strings can also cause an entanglement. (No, not the kind that Jada Pinkett Smith talked about.) Real entanglement: The kind of horrifying incident that results in marine wildlife being hurt, ill and/or suffocating.

So what can wedding parties do to safely discard balloons?

  • Make pretty balloon wall art as wedding souvenirs.
  • Create an emergency poncho (or blanket) to store in the car (or other emergency bag).
  • Cut the necks off of the balloons to create gift bags. Wine anyone?
  • Use the balloons as mail packing material instead of air pillows.
  • Make beeswax luminaries, which will be especially cool for the honeymoon.
  • Recycle balloons and bottles at the same time by making flower vases, or figure out how to make a balloon version of a bride-groom flower vase.

Check around online for other ways to be creative with leftover balloons. And if all else fails, just let the children enjoy all that noise from bursting each balloon inside. Then safely discard them into trash cans. While foil balloons are not biodegradable (and a good reason to opt out of buying them), latex versions are biodegradable and fine to put in regular trash.

Congratulations on the big day. Now celebrate safely, and find creative ways to discard the wedding rubbish.

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Check out her five Medium publications: Doggone World, Homegrown, I Do See Color, Tickled and We Need to Talk. Visit Shamontiel.com to read about her.

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