Helium balloons pose a unique threat to wildlife and the environment. When released outdoors, the balloons eventually shatter and/or fall to earth, where the latex fragments are often mistaken by wildlife as food, or individuals become entangled in the strings or latex, leading to stress, injury, malnutrition, and sometimes death. What differentiates balloons from other garbage and debris, however, is that the very nature of their being – that they are filled with a gas lighter than air – not only allows them to stay airborne and disperse farther distances from their point of origin than might otherwise occur with a discarded straw or plastic bag, but also disperse to higher altitudes where they undergo an explosive “brittle fracture” that results in both large and micro material that fall to earth, making it difficult to track their fate.
What is MCD?
MCD is a citizen science project whose purpose is to collect geotagged data through the app Litterati to educate the public about the fate of air- or helium-filled latex and mylar (foil) balloons released outdoors, and the inevitable fact that when balloons are released, singly or en masse, they must eventually fall to earth.
How Can I Participate?
Download the Litterati app (here) and start logging your observations in three easy steps:
(1) Track it down!
Whether you are in an urban or open space (the woods, the beach, the desert, the city, or your backyard), keep an eye out for latex and mylar balloons.
(2) Tag it up!
Take a photo of any balloon you encounter with the Litterati app and tag it with #mcd, as well as #latexballoon or #mylarballoon.
(3) Pack it out!
Properly dispose of any garbage you collect.
Don’t forget – if you see other garbage, make sure to log and collect it too to keep our open spaces and urban areas clean.
How Do Balloons Affect the Environment?
When latex and foil (mylar) balloons fall to earth, they become more than just litter – they become a nuisance to the public and a threat to wildlife species. For wildlife in particular, balloon fragments become what we at #mcd refer to at apatobiomimics – man-made materials that inadvertently and deceptively resemble things naturally found in the wild. You can learn more about balloons’ effects on the environment and wildlife here: