The social and environmental issues we are facing these days can feel incredibly overwhelming, big and unchangeable, despite our continued work to affect positive change in our own lives. This feature highlights individuals and organizations who are working for positive change...taking small (and large) steps to create positive change for our environment and in our communities. I firmly believe that passion and action are priceless and that one person can inspire countless others...just like the expanding ripples in a pond are caused by a single disturbance.
I am incredibly pleased to introduce Balloons Blow as the very first featured organization!!!
Tell us a little about your organization...
Balloons Blow is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating others of the impact balloon litter has on wildlife and the environment that was created by an Earth-loving family. We have been cleaning beaches ever since we could walk, and this has developed in us a thorough understanding of the harmful effects of human debris. After seeing an extreme increase in balloon pollution, & realizing that the balloon industry's lies were the only 'information' on the internet, we knew we had to do something.
The beaches we clean are not frequented by beachgoers so all the stuff we collect off the beaches is washed ashore by wind and water currents, it could come from a nearby resort, many miles inland carried by water, or across the Atlantic Ocean from another country. Most of the litter we find is plastic, but balloon pollution is increasing every year. We suspect the popularity of Facebook & Twitter, one can create a balloon release (a mass littering event) that spreads around the world in minutes, with 10's of thousands of people agreeing to release balloons.
What inspired you to begin the work you do?
The Earth and its wildlife will continue to inspire us to stay strong and continue our work toward a sustainable society that is aware of the impacts daily actions have on the planet.
After witnessing the exponential growth in balloon litter and seeing the increase in popularity of this deadly trend, we created a website on Earth Day in 2011 to educate others of this little-thought-of issue. When searching the subject online we found that most results were directly from the balloon industry encouraging people to release balloons; we wanted to add a non-biased voice and source of information about this issue to contest their claims. Shortly after the launch of our website, we created a page on Facebook so people could “promise never to let go of balloons” by ‘liking’ the page. Since then we are also on twitter and have over 7,000 supporters/promisors between the two outlets; a group composed of scientists, rehabbers, environmentalists, and many others from around the world. Due to the amount of time and work it takes to really take on the issue of balloon pollution we are in the process of becoming a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and we hope this will enable us to reach a wider audience.
What do you love about what you do?
We wish there was no reason to have created such an organization. Through the ups and downs of the actions we take the ocean is there beside us; reminding us why we are dedicating so much time, money, and effort. We love what we do because we know we are helping the birds that fly over our heads, the dolphins that join us in the surf, the manatees that pass by the shore, the sharks that patrol the reef, and every animal that lives with us on this planet. We do this for the life that has been here and the life that will continue to grow here.
We have connected with people. People across the world that share our dedication to the planet and wildlife. They share our love for the planet. We could not do this without our supporters; with their voices our message will spread far and wide: Please don’t release balloons and be conscious of the effects your actions will have on the environment. We love the people that are taking action to save wildlife and speaking out to guide others toward a more environmentally conscious mind-set.
When we created the website and social network pages we had no idea what would come from it. We have adjusted with each passing month and learned many things along the way about connecting and educating people. Our initial plan of having a website and enabling people to ‘like’ our page to ‘promise not to release balloons’ has expanded to include a growing photo gallery of balloons found in the environment from around the world, our flotsam and jetsam photo gallery, a ‘Wall of Shame’, an extensive resource page, a backyard biodegradability test, encouraging schools and community groups to ‘Make the Promise’ to receive a certificate and a tree planted in the boreal forest in their honor, printable factsheets and cards, and outreach materials such as bumper stickers and t-shirts. With our growing support we have big plans for the future!
Our mission has evolved from spreading awareness & educating about the effects of balloons, to also discouraging the consumption of all single-use products. We have had many people connect with us telling us that after seeing the pictures of the marine pollution we collect at the beach and the countless alerts of organized balloon releases they are trying to consume less plastic and are speaking up when they hear of a planned release. Such encouraging words help us carry on and continue connecting with the public and contacting event organizers to discourage the release of balloons.
What new skills have you learned through your experiences and how have you applied them to other aspects of your life?
Through our journey we have developed and refined skills in networking, non-profit administration and operation, education, outreach, writing, communication, and web/graphic design. We will continue to grow and learn as much as we can in order to reach as many people as possible, efficiently and effectively.
We use these skills in our daily lives communicating with others and educating people that come up and ask us why we are cleaning the beach. Cleaning the beaches and protecting wildlife is our life and learning different abilities as we go will help us deal with the ebb and flow of our work.
There are often many challenges when attempting to change people’s minds and actions. Balloons are usually thought to be innocent and fun and a sign of letting go when released. People can be very passionate about balloons. Some people can be very defensive when we pair these childhood memories with death and destruction. We are often called 'party-poopers.'
Events that have already been planned are a little tricky to have reorganized. Creators can be offended by an ‘attack’ on their idea, especially if the event was thought of by students. Balloon releases are becoming popular with awareness group events. This is perplexing to us because awareness groups usually deal with an issue that affects life, whether it is human or another species. Not only can balloons themselves directly destroy life, but the helium that the balloons are filled with is being depleted at an alarming rate. Helium is a finite resource and is used in the medical field for a variety of life-saving procedures. Helium depletion has recently been in the news after many years of being an issue. Helium is also used in the space industry, deep sea exploration and our supplies of Helium are being used at a “unimaginable” rate and could be gone within a generation according to Robert Richardson (Nobel Prize winner in 1996 for his work on superfluidity of Helium). Balloon releases are bad for everyone. Currently the U.S is the biggest exporter of helium, If the U.S. supply is squandered, it will have to be imported from the Middle East & Russia.
The most difficult and delicate of all the challenges we face comes in the form of people who have lost loved ones and have found comfort in releasing balloons into the sky. It can be disturbing to try to support someone in their grief but at the same time tell them what they are doing is killing more life. Even with day-to-day situations it can be hard to hear that you are wrong, but when you are grieving and think you are doing something special for the loved one’s life that was lost, your defensive walls will likely come up much more quickly and with greater aggression than normal, especially if a balloon release is something that you have been doing for years. We try to share our own experiences with losing a loved one, and gently let them know there are other ways to find healing that do not harm life. When our grandfather died we planted a tree in his memory. It grew with the passing years, providing habitat for nesting birds in the spring and shade for us in the summer. Our favorite alternative is planting trees and flowers because both support existing life and help create new lives. We try not to push too hard when alerting grieving people of the dangers of balloon releases. Instead we share our stories and hope they will see another way of doing things on their own.
Ideally everyone would know that releasing balloons is damaging to the environment and simply shift away from the traditional uses of balloons. Releasing balloons is simply littering. However, it is an unfortunate fact that many people today know that they shouldn't litter and yet continue to do so. Because of this, we have laws which further discourage such people. It’s time to enforce, strengthen, and possibly create these laws as they apply to balloon litter.
There are a handful of states and cities around the United States and globe that have balloon release regulations. Unfortunately, many of these laws are often unenforced and unknown. They also frequently allow for a certain number of balloons to be released and only penalize a fine for releases that exceed the limit. The legality of balloon releases is a tremendous obstacle for us; especially since the balloon industry has big bucks and a strong lobby on their side. The balloon council boasts that no balloon release laws have been passed since they banded together 20 years ago. We will still write to our representatives and government officials and spread our message, and we encourage others to do so as well. Creating laws regulating balloon releases may be a difficult and lengthy process, but their enactment would be concurrent with litter laws.
Our hope is that spreading our message to the public and sharing our photos, stories, and facts will have an effect on people that will spread like a wave. Having respect for the Earth in the simple act of refraining from littering and releasing balloons can lead to more environmentally conscious and sustainable actions. This is one of the biggest challenges we all face due to the structure of our societies.
|Bird entangled in & killed by a balloon.|
What can people do on a daily basis to affect change in the world around them?
Don’t be afraid to speak up and speak out about important and sometimes controversial issues. Creating change in the world around you can be as easy as picking up some litter you walk by, writing a persuasive letter to officials, buying a reusable water bottle, or holding onto that balloon. The planet and our fellow beings on this planet need people to care. When people care for something they act and when one person takes action others will likely follow. One person stepping up and taking action regardless of what others may say, whether simple or complex, creates a stir that will eventually cause a ripple effect. Friends and family will notice and your action no matter how small will add up with others that do the same. Refuse plastic, go veg/vegan, pick up litter…the possibilities are endless and every action will help!
Please spread the message. Tell your family, friends, co-workers, teachers, mayors, government officials, anyone who will listen that releasing balloons is a threat to wildlife and the environment. If you know someone who releases balloons, hear about one that’s planned, or witness people letting them go, please speak up! We also have printable fact sheets on our website to post or pass out; general printer paper size and small cards. Many people simply do not know it is a problem and are quick to act on their new-found knowledge. Together we can make balloon releases a thing of the past.
Visit www.BalloonsBlow.org to learn more. Knowledge is power and our site offers several ways to help spread the word. There you can find our photo gallery, more resources on this issue, and information on Helium depletion.
Please visit our website to report a release, print out a fact sheet, or have your school, town, or group make the promise! If you have questions, supportive opportunities, or anything else, you can contact us at email@example.com, follow us on Twitter @balloonsblow, or keep in touch and promise never to let go a balloon go by ‘liking’ our facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/
There is hope for life on Earth as we know it if people are willing to stand together for a better good. Balloons wreak havoc on wildlife from forests to deserts, from mountain ranges to seas, but they are only one piece of the destructive conglomeration of trash and chemicals that are out there seeping into every ecosystem.
Many people ask us, why balloons? After explaining the complex web of this question as it is directly related to released balloons (industry propaganda, lack of public awareness, encouragement of wastefulness, effects on wildlife, etc.) it always comes around to the big picture; sustainability. Throwing something ‘away’ takes it out of your sight but not off of the planet. Recycling is a great alternative to throwing something ‘away’, but is becoming a bandage over the deeper wound. We are all victims of our society and are often coerced into buying more oil based plastics; but by coming together we CAN make a difference! We all have the power to control our actions and in the end change the course of history. Because, let’s face it, we can’t go on creating and filling the world with things that won’t break down for centuries, pumping our air and water with damaging chemicals, or clearing our natural resources out faster than they can replenish. ‘Unsustainable’ means that eventually we will have no choice but change eventually. But why wait until it’s too late to ever repair the damage that we've caused?
Balloons Blow…don’t let them go! Now that you know the extent of the damage a seemingly harmless object can do, you can remember this lesson in all aspects of your relationship with the Earth. :)
Do you know of an individual or small organization that you think deserves to be highlighted? Would you like to be highlighted? If so, please email me at trinityvision3(at)gmail(dot)com or comment below with any ideas or suggestions!