Overall, the production of latex balloons feels inherently unsustainable because of the simple lack of a need for the product. As a society we need to take a deeper look into how our social norms are negatively impacting our environment. I believe that celebrations are one of these and that we need actively work to change these norms. The issue I see with latex balloons originates from these social norms and the acceptability of using a single use product in the name of some occasion. We need to reassess whether buying balloons is really worth the pollution to our world. As an honorable mention, you should also be aware that marketed “biodegradable balloons” still take a while (up to 4 years) to degrade.
I recommend to the consumer that they stop buying single use balloons all together and instead try celebrating with something like bubbles or plants/flowers. I recommend to the company that they consider how their products are directly impacting the environment as they almost immediately become waste directly after they are purchased.
Let’s say you’re having a celebration. You head to party city and find this cheap bundle of assorted color balloons made of latex. How sustainable is this? The website states the material as natural latex rubber and warns of allergic reactions. They also warn about choking hazards for young children and recommend to keep them out of reach. The price is $2.99 for 15 balloons which I feel is very reasonable. This easy accessibility of balloons in general and social norms of celebrating with balloons enables California alone to sell “45-50 million balloons a year.” Additionally, latex is most often not recyclable and Party City makes no mention of this one way or another which I find disappointing.
The only statement about their latex material is that it contains “natural” latex rubber. I think “contains” is different than “completely made of” and I’ve noticed this trend consistently with large scale corporations compared to smaller indie brands. It’s something to be wary of and with the assumption that the product is not completely natural and is a processed latex, the consumer should know that if “they are released intentionally or not, [the balloons] return to Earth as ugly litter – including those marketed as “biodegradable latex.” These products can also take up to 5 years to biodegrade and pose extreme danger to the environment and wildlife before that time.
The balloons are made of latex but the process that Party City uses is not transparent. No statements of sustainability or even recyclability of this product is made. So, I’m going to continue this section as these balloons are typically made. MadeHow says that the production process requires freshwater usage and at the end of the process there are certain amounts of “chemical waste that can be released by a factory” which is regulated by government laws. Alternatives in the industry appear to be the foil balloons, these are more durable and take an even longer time to degrade than the latex rubber.
Thus, the process of making this product is certainly unsustainable for the environment considering balloons are not a necessary item. While I’m sympathetic to wanting to celebrate and quickly identify an occasion, latex balloons are not a sustainable option. Sustainable Development Goal number 12 stands for responsible production and consumption and I truthfully don’t think single use balloons fit anywhere into this. Responsible production should not include single use items.
Party City is a celebration based company that supplies customers with a large variety of party items. They are not dedicated to environmental sustainability and they do not make any statements regarding sustainability as a whole. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Party City includes a “Spread joy. Shop safely. Wear a mask” message on their website. Party City warns of choking hazards and allergies on their website which I appreciate. They also include a message to “always dispose of balloons properly. Do not release balloons into the air.” While I appreciate this statement, I think it could be more explicit. I think it would be beneficial for the company to more explicitly state something along the lines of “we do not support balloon releases or any type of littering with our products.”
The production and distribution process of this product is also unclear. There is inherently some environmental impact of any large scale endeavor, but without transparency the consumer feels this aspect is “out of sight, out of mind” and I think this poses a real challenge for sustainability.