Public Service Trigger Announcement
Nowadays it doesn’t take much to raise the hackles of my inner misanthrope. If clumps of oil were all we saw, then life on the high seas might not be quite as ecologically depressing. The one thing that gets me wound up more than any other is Mylar balloons. Located somewhere at the crossroads of childhood triviality and global environmental catastrophe, Mylar balloons are a massive problem. On Aleta, we have seen the distinctive shiny objects hundreds of miles offshore. They are unmistakable.
Mylar, or biaxially oriented polyethylene terephthalate (BoPET) was invented in the 1950s by ICI DuPont. It lasts forever. FOREVER! Especially when coated with a metal like aluminium or gold. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is one of the most common microplastics thanks to its use in food containers and a thousand other things we take for granted in modern life. Dogs and cats that eat Mylar food bags may suffer from gastrointestinal obstruction. The same is true for sea turtles, dolphins, and birds who often mistake balloons for food. Latex balloons aren’t much better. While they are technically biodegradable, it may still take four years or more for them to break down.
Why is this a problem?
Admit it: balloons are fun. They defy gravity. They’re mesmerizing. They might cause you to faint when you blow them up. And occasionally they blow up in your face, so they’re engagingly dangerous, too. They can carry a cartoon Ed Asner Up out of his depression. They can hold helium which makes your voice funny when you inhale it. And when you release hundreds of them at once they are beautiful, in a cathartic way.
Balloon releases to commemorate the passing of loved ones have become more common. In Japan, for example, you can arrange for a ‘balloon funeral’. Your ashes are carried aloft, waved on by your loved ones until you disappear into the clouds. But what goes up, must come down. Trust me, too many balloons come down in the ocean and wreak havoc.
If you feel compelled to soothe your loss by launching things into the air, consider flying a paper and balsawood kite. Or toss an unbleached paper airplane off a cliff. Or connect with the earth and plant a tree over their ashes. Or paint a rock. Just, please, don’t add any more plastic to the giant garbage patches circulating out in the oceans. And don’t kill a turtle with the remains of your loved one.