Up, up but never away: Balloon litter in New York

NYS DEC

FINGER LAKES – New York State Department of Environmental Conservation field staff often find littered balloons, even when working in New York’s most remote areas. DEC staff have been picking up balloons they find while doing field work.

Latex and foil balloons are often found in the fields, woods, and waters of New York State very far away from where they were released, posing a threat to wildlife.

Fish and Wildlife Technician Briana All says, “I’m hoping that by collecting these balloons we find in the woods and putting them on display, people will realize that when they release balloons they are littering. There is only one place these balloons will end up —back on the ground or water far from where they originated.”

In just one region, over 50 balloons were gathered by DEC staff in one season.

Littered foil or latex balloons and their strings can be found on the ground, stuck in trees, in water bodies, and other sensitive ecosystems. Finding waste balloons in any wild place doesn’t just take away from the experience of being in these environments — when balloons end up as litter, they can also become a hazard to fish and wildlife or can become microplastic pollution.

Wildlife can and do mistake the balloons as food and try to ingest them, blocking their intestines and causing them to starve. Wildlife can also get tangled in the ribbons, which inhibits their movements or strangles them.

Be part of the solution:

• If you celebrate with balloons, make sure they are tied down tight, and avoid balloon releases. Many balloons end up in the environment after being released at celebrations and memorials.

• Dispose of balloons properly in the trash. Balloons do not belong in the recycling bin.

• Consider alternatives to balloons such as bubbles, bells, paper or fabric garlands, reusable banners, or planting a native tree, shrub, or flowers in remembrance of a loved one.

• Learn more about balloon litter and other types of plastic pollution.

• Have you seen littered balloons in the environment? Send the DEC your pictures and stories about where you have found balloons.