Balloons at weddings: Are they sustainable?

Let’s talk about balloons at weddings, more specifically about their lack of sustainability and the wasteful nature of them.  In short they are made of plastic, they are filled with either air or helium, used for a short time and eventually popped. They then go into landfill or the incinerator.

just married balloons

Balloons as single use wedding decor

Balloons at weddings are, more often than not, a single use decor item. Why? Because they are relatively cheap, you can use lots of them and create a big statement – for example balloon arches and table centerpieces. You could say, you get a lot of bang for your buck! The trouble is, they are made of plastic (which isn’t biodegradable), they can’t be recycled and they often use helium (a whole other issue, did you know there is a world helium shortage!?)

What’s the problem with helium balloons?

Helium is a naturally occurring resource, it mainly comes from mining underground gas pockets. When helium is used and released into the atmosphere it is light enough to escape the Earth’s gravitational field and so it escapes into space never to return again. It’s a finite natural resource and it’s fast running out. We get it. Beautiful, colourful balloons floating weightlessly in the air are magical. But did you know that those valuable helium reserves are  also needed for important medical equipment such as MRI scanners? Puts a different light on things doesn’t it?

What about biodegradable balloons or sustainable helium?

Of course, you can get biodegradable balloons and also you can get second-hand helium which is reused after it has been utilised in the medical profession however, the problem with biodegradable balloons is like anything, if it isn’t disposed of into the right conditions, it will not break down. Of course after any party, it is unlikely that someone will be going around picking up all the balloons to compost correctly.  As a result, they are no more sustainable than the non-biodegradable versions.

The biggest issue – balloon releases

Ultimately, the biggest issue, especially for helium filled balloons is once you let go of them they are off and up into the into the sky. We all know that what goes up must come down and unfortunately quite a lot of the time they come down either in fields or the ocean. In both cases this is a major problem.

Both animals and marine life get confused, they think that balloons are food: birds think they’re fish, large fish think they’re smaller fish and they eat them. When they eat them, the repercussions can be horrendous. The balloons fill their stomachs, expanding inside them and starving the animal in their own stomachs, eventually killing them in the most painful and dreadful way. All this, and we haven’t even mentioned how birds and wildlife can get tangled in the strings, so often attached to helium filled balloons. This is not uncommon – as the photos and video footage of every large sea mammal and bird washed up on our shores with untold amounts of plastic in their stomachs, will attest to. 

So should we be using balloons at weddings?

We don’t think so, no.  Similarly, things like Chinese lanterns are another single-use item that are released and can get caught in trees, risking causing a fire, but more often ending up somewhere that an animal or a bird will eat.

OK then, what is the alternative to balloons at weddings?

One of the best and most beautiful options to create a beautiful wedding backdrop, is of course flowers.  Of course balloons are a cheaper option for decor than flowers, if you want a big and bold display. But here at Green Manatee we firmly believe that less is more. A small, beautiful floral arrangement or a natural arch decorated with dried flowers or foliage or wildflowers collected yourself; creates a far more attractive display and a far more beautiful and environmentally friendly option.  

So, when you’re thinking about whether to have balloons at your wedding, please consider their impact on the environment after your wedding day is over. They are harmful in more ways than perhaps you realised. Don’t choose a single use item that has no ongoing life and has no clear and effective way of being recycled or breaking down afterwards. We’d much rather you choose a natural and sustainable alternative like locally grown flowers.

See Zoe talking about balloons at weddings on our YouTube channel here:

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