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#TheSoapbox: Have you thought about what happens to those balloons you release? Nothing good

Chelmsford resident Sydney Morgan is on a mission to protect the environment from something few of us probably considered: balloon and lantern releases, and she makes a good case to end the practice

A few months ago, I saw a post online about Illinois planning to ban helium balloon releases, and wondered why we didn’t have a similar initiative in Canada. 

There are several ways releasing even one balloon can backfire and have devastating consequences; here are just a few. 

The boreal forest burns as a part of its natural process and life cycle, which includes fires started by lightning strikes, which eventually burns down the forest in order for it to regenerate. 

However, human caused fires are yet another way we interfere with Mother Nature. Sending sky lanterns up (especially during dry seasons with high burn potential) can easily cause a forest fire or even infrastructure fires. 

Think about it: you’re sending a small fire up into the sky. It looks pretty for a minute before it drifts away, and when it lands, anything could happen. It could land in water and pollute an ecosystem, or worse, it could land on some dry grass, and next thing you know, you’ve single handedly caused the next big wildfire.

In the City of Greater Sudbury, sky lanterns are already not permitted as per the Ontario Fire Code. The City of Greater Sudbury website has resources for sentimental releases here.

In 2018, a mylar balloon filled with helium and released was the cause of a power outage in Vancouver, B.C. More than 12,000 locations lost power. Luckily, power was restored very quickly, but this is happening more and more frequently. 

But humans aren’t the only ones suffering. Here is a very sad quote from a CBC article titled ‘Balloons provide no joy for wildlife, environmentalists warn’.

“Pamela Denmon, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist in Virginia, said balloons washed-up on the beach is a ‘huge problem. ‘We would do a necropsy on a bird or turtle or other marine mammal and it would have entangled balloon ribbon all throughout its guts,’ Denmon said. She added that she encountered dead seabirds, hanging from power lines or choked around the neck by balloon strings.”

Very powerful imagery in this statement that you may want to consider when hosting or being part of an event. 

Some more environmentally friendly ways to celebrate events without the use of balloons could be lighting candles, stringing lights, writing letters to a loved one who has passed on, blowing bubbles. There are so many ways to get creative about celebrations.

It’s pretty ironic that when we want to honour a loved one or celebrate the arrival of a baby, we are polluting the environment they once lived in and likely appreciated, or polluting the world that a child will be born into. Try to think of how that person would feel discovering a balloon in their favorite lake or on their favourite hike.

The Canadian Wildlife Federation recommends using fabric bunting or tissue paper for decorating at parties. This is a great option because they can both be reused, or the tissue paper recycled, which can save you on costs for celebrating birthday parties and save you from having to buy new decorations every time. 

I thought an e-petition was a great way to let our MPs and government know how we feel on certain topics and to demand change. The process is simple: write up a petition, collect five initial supporters, have it approved by an MP, then it will be open for signatures. 

Once 500 are collected, the petition gets certified and presented to the house, and then a government response is tabled. 

I've always been very passionate about making a difference somehow for the environment and although this is a small action, I’m hoping it has a ripple effect and educates people that although you don’t see the balloon or lantern land, it does go somewhere. Ignorance isn’t bliss in this case; you are littering and damage is being done somewhere in the world no matter what. 

Another motivation behind this was to prove to myself that anyone, anywhere, can make a change — I don’t have a university degree, I’m not a scientist, I don’t even live near the ocean. Still, I can take action from my community or from my home — I created the petition online in just a few days.

I originally learned about the devastating effects of plastic pollution and microplastics on waterways through documentaries available on Netflix, notably, “Plastic Ocean and Mission Blue”. 

I also had the chance to participate in a week-long event called ‘Microplastics Week’ earlier this year in March, hosted by Sustainibabe, an initiative started by youth as part of a service project from last year's cohort by Ocean Bridge, a program I am currently a part of. 

I’ve gotten the chance to connect with people all over the country about balloons. People have shared with me that they’ve found balloons and lanterns in their fields, others found unimaginable numbers of balloons washed ashore (I did not think there were so many balloons when I started this initiative.) A friend I’ve made online, Lynn Tremain, has found 103 balloons as of May from cleaning up along the Lake Huron shoreline. 

I hope after reading this you will reconsider your impact on the environment when celebrating. 

If you want to sign the petition, you can find it here.

Sydney Morgan lives in Chelmsford.