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Is Recycling Full of Hot Air?
New Year’s Eve, birthday parties, graduation, gestures of goodwill after you unwittingly forget your nephew at the supermarket–there are a lot of uses for balloons. But what about after the celebrations are over and the balloons are no longer flying high? Like most issues when it comes to recycling, whether balloons can be recycled depends on the type of materials they’re made of.
Balloons come in such a large variety of shapes and designs, but the most common types of balloons are made from latex or Mylar. Latex is natural rubber tapped from the Hevea tree, so latex makes the stretchy, rubbery balloons. These are considered biodegradable because latex balloons will break down eventually, after a number of months.
Mylar balloons are made with another type of plastic sheet. Balloons made from Mylar are often coated with a metallic finish. Interesting tidbit: Mylar is actually a registered trademark owned by Dupont Tejjin Films for a specific family of products made from the resin Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET). We normally don’t, however, call this material “polyester film,” but we could.
Dispose of Balloons Properly
If balloons wind up as litter in the ocean, latex balloons take up to a year to degrade because of the saltwater. In the meantime, they pose a hazard to various types of wildlife because animals mistake floating balloon bits for food.
Even though latex may be biodegradable, the string and ribbon often attached to balloons are not. These issues are a particular problem for birds and marine mammals, such as sea turtles.
As a result, several states and cities have enacted laws against releasing balloons at public ceremonies and the like. If you are school or other organization, consider alternative ceremonial actions, like planting trees or flowers instead of releasing balloons that may end up miles away causing harm to wildlife.
Once your balloon deflates and you no longer want it, or if you see one on the ground, place it in the trash. Volunteers at coastal cleanups will thank you!
Other Ways to Reuse Balloons
If you are crafty enough, you can use any material in different ways, and gain an inflated sense of the 3 Rs:
Use a Frame
Once Mylar balloons have lost their floaty helium charm, if you still want to keep them, put the deflated balloon in a frame. It actually looks better than you might think depending on the design, and once it is flattened. Allow air to be released by using a small pin if needed. Thin, black square frames that are intended for framing records work well, and the balloon becomes a decorative memento of the event.
Keep Birds Away
You may be familiar with the use of old CDs and DVDs for this same purpose. The reflective material of a metalized Mylar balloon will detract birds from your garden if you tie up strips of them around trees, and they’re sturdy enough to hold up to outdoor weather.
By collecting enough Mylar, and cutting and folding it, many items can be made, such as small drawstring tote bags, wallets, even cute balloon flowers.
Balloons are recyclable! Check out this great idea from Junk Mail Gems, a Balloon gift bag!