By Julia Hunt
Object of Concern: Balloons
With many different objects of concerns, we face nowadays, I decided to look more in depth into the object of concern that is used at almost every party and celebration, that is a major cause of children’s death due to choking, that cause not only a danger to the environment but also the animals and wildlife in the environment. That object of concern is balloons. Throughout this paper I will be giving a brief history of balloons, when they first came about, how they are made, what they are made out of and any other interesting facts. I will then proceed to my first lens (approach 1) and talk about the risk and hazards that balloons possess for humans, animals and the environment. After that I will go on to my second lens (approach 2) and talk about how balloons do not comply with environmental ethics. Lastly, I will wrap the paper up with my conclusion and recapping the overall object of concern.
A Brief History of Balloons:
Balloons have been around since the 18th century, and since then they have been presented at parties, weddings, celebrations, birthdays, graduations and more. “Two papermakers, Jacques and Joseph Montgolfier, discovered that when paper bags are filled with hot air, the bags rise.” (Rottner) Once they discovered that bags rise with hot air it was not long after that discovery before they soon reached their revelation of balloons. With the right kind of balloon material and air inside of the balloon they concluded that it could stay full for a good period of time. To start off the blow up of balloons attractions, “Later that year, Jacques Charles flew a balloon made of silk coated with a rubber varnish and filled with hydrogen, a gas that is lighter than air.” Since then balloons have only had an evolution on how to make them better than they were before. From then to now the biggest change we have seen is the type of material the balloon is made out of, back in the 1700’s they were made with a rubber coat on the silk nowadays balloons are made solely out of rubber.
For the first production of the rubber it all started with the first rubber factory located in Paris during 1803, then followed by “Austria in 1811, Germany in 1829, and Russia and the USA in 1830.” (Susheel pg. 405) Within the span of just a little less than 30 year it had evolved from Paris to 5 other countries which is quite a boom for the rubber industry. The actual manufacturing process uses forms that can be used over and over again and are made of stainless steel, aluminum, or porcelain. These forms are placed upside down to a moving rack and go from one station to another until the process is complete. Back when the earliest balloons were being manufactured they had forms that were disposable and made from cardboards that were connected to cylindrical rods. Modern balloon making does not require a lot of manual work, most of it is automated in an ongoing process from one station to the next, from beginning to end. In most cases, “Balloons are made in batches, all of the same color and size, since changing the color and form is time-consuming it requires manual intervention. Manual intervention is usually only need for setting up a run and then later for packaging the finished product, and for dealing with occasional mechanical problems that may arise.” (Rottner) After the balloons are made they are then packaged and shipped off from all over the world in various types of transportation: freight on boats and trucks. Once they have arrived at their destination either a store or directly to a home/office they then need to be filled with helium which can be done at various grocery stores. Lastly, they are placed where desired for decoration and splashes of color to help make the celebration more enjoyable and fun.
Risk and Hazard Lens:
To look at balloons through the lens of risk and hazard there are many different circumstances and cases that call us to action to be cautious and aware of the effect balloons have on the environment, animals and even with humans. First things first, it is important that we know the proper definition of risk and hazard. According to the book Environmental and Society written by Paul Robbins, John Hintz and Sarah A. Moore hazard is defined as, “a thing, a condition, or a process that threatens individuals and society in terms of production (making a living) or reproduction (being alive).” (Robbins pg. 83) To define risk from Environmental and Society as well, it is said that risk “Is understood as the known (or estimated) probability that a hazard-related decision will have a negative consequence.” (Robbins pg. 84). These two words almost seem too similar yet they both have very different means of definitions. Hazards is the ‘physical’ thing that can cause damage or harm whereas risk is just the change that a hazard could cause damage. You might be wondering, how could balloons, those fun and colorful decorations, possibly be hazardous or serve as a risk to the environment? According to a study done by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, “Balloons account for 43% of the approximately 15 childhood deaths related to children's products that are documented each year by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Toy rubber balloons are thus the leading cause of pediatric choking deaths from children's products.” (Ryan) Any child left alone with a balloon (especially one that doesn’t have helium in it yet) is automatically a red flag, especially since children put almost anything they can find in their mouths. That being, there are different sizes of balloons and the little balloons could almost look like candies yet could lead to the child choking and dying. Lucky, this isn’t a super common everyday death hazard, but it does happen often enough to be questions on whether balloons should be banned or not. As a child may grow up, they then might try sucking the helium out of balloons which also isn’t safe, but still do it for the pure amusement of having a high-pitched voice for a small amount of time. I personally remember doing this myself and then blacked out for about 5 seconds and since then I have never done it again. Which obviously means that helium could be a health hazard and that we shouldn’t intake helium into our systems. That is just the beginning of hazards and risk that balloons serve. They not only affect humans but also the environment and animals living in the environment. There are many traditions, ceremonies, celebrations and closures that often gather a bunch of balloons and release them up into the sky whether it represents them letting go, sending a letter to someone in heaven or just simply moving on in some aspect. Although while that may be exciting and beautiful to see for us humans we often forget a famous quote Isaac Newton once said, “What goes up must come down.” Again, while sending balloons might seem innocent at the time they are floating up, what happens after is the more detrimental part.
Environmental Ethics Lens:
This is almost a similar lens to the risk and hazard lens. As we did with the risk and hazard lens, I think it is most beneficial to define the term before discussing it. According to the book Environment and Society written by Paul Robbins, John Hintz and Sarah A. Moore ethics/ethical is defined as, “The branch of philosophy dealing with morality, or, questions of right and wrong human action in the world.” (Robbins pg. 67) In other words, ethics are just the moral sense of right and wrong. Personally, I believe balloons are wrong for the environment, and I am not the only one to believe that. There are many scientist, marine biologist and other environment lovers that would agree so as well. Balloons can land anywhere when they are set free, the ocean, beaches, forests, even in the sky they can be dangerous. Animals live everywhere, they live in the ocean, walk beaches, are home in the forest, and soar through the sky. “Beach litter surveys have shown the amount of balloons and balloon pieces found on the beach have tripled in the past 10 years.” (Impacts on Wildlife & the Environment). Even with balloons being made to be biodegradable they still aren’t found to be safe for the environment. Not only are balloons not good for the environment, they easily make our planet looked cluttered and unclean, which over an amount of time at this rate, it really will be, and beaches might be gone and become dump sites. Our ethics should lead us to protect the environment rather than destroy it. Balloons are most hazardous to animals in the ocean, “Latex balloons may also end up in water, where they eventually lose their color and can resemble jellyfish. Sea animals such as whales and turtles have attempted to eat them and have died because the latex clogs their digestive systems.” I know for a fact, that our ethics are not to kill animals just for our own mere enjoyment of having a balloon. What are some things we can do to help the environment that might be alternatives to using balloons? Well, for starters, you could always plant something somewhere in memory of someone, or even find time to go outside a fly a kite (make sure not to let it go!), also you could paint a rock as a different form of expression. It is always important to remember that animals were here first and that we need to respect their homes; especially since animals don’t have a voice to speak up for their own rights, it’s important we advocate for them as well and don’t just benefit ourselves. If we continue to destroy their homes, not only will we realize that we are disrespecting their homes we expose animals to the threat of extinction as well. Balloons have obviously been noticed as causing harm to the environment, that there was a proposed petition to ban some balloons because balloons would land where they shouldn’t have. That petition did not go through, but instead just warned people about the use of balloons around power lines. We need to remember to stay true to our ethics of protection.
To conclude I hope that I have proven in my research why balloons are an object of concern. While balloons have been around for many years and the producing and manufacturing of them have largely grown into a large automatic process with only little manual needs, there is still such a need and demand for balloons even though they have many risks associated with them. Even now they are coming out with more and new eye pleasing balloons: balloons with confetti, balloons that are giant numbers or letters and even balloons that light up or glow in the dark. I have to agree, balloons are fun, creative and beautiful decorations. Although, when I take into consideration the animals and rest of environment, I see that balloons do more damage in the long run. With statistics to back up my claims, balloons being a leading cause for choking hazards for children’s and the number of balloons found on the beaches and in the ocean killing animals.
I thought it would be hard to write a 4-page paper on the effects of balloons on the environment, but after much research I have been convinced that there is a lot that we overlook just so we can have the personal use of balloons. There is also a lot we overlook in the negative aspects of balloons in the environment, or maybe it isn’t such a problem yet that we don’t feel the need to conduct a change just yet. There is no doubt in my mind though, if we keep up with the same tactics of releasing balloons that we will soon face the consequences just as the animals have. I don’t see much of problem with properly disposing of balloons but still we need to raise awareness that sending balloons into the sky is not good for the environment. I hope that many become more aware of the environmental aspects that are associated with balloons.
“Impacts on Wildlife & the Environment.” Balloons Blow, balloonsblow.org/impacts-on
Ryan, C, et al. “Childhood Deaths from Toy Balloons.” American Journal of Diseases of
Children (1960)., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 11 Nov. 1990,
Rottner, Renee M. “Balloon.” How Products Are Made, www.madehow.com/Volume
Robbins, Paul, et al. Environment and Society: A Critical Introduction. Second Edition.
Susheel, Kalia and Avelrous, Luc. Biopolymers Biomedical and Environmental
Applications. Wiley, 2011.