Environmental group says Great Lakes plagued by balloon waste

Surveys from an environmental group reveal that more that thousands of pieces of balloon waste are ending up in the Great Lakes.

According to Detroit Free Press, the surveys, sponsored by the nonprofit Alliance for the Great Lakes, revealed “more than 18,000 balloons, balloon pieces or balloon strings along Great Lakes shorelines between 2016 and last year.”

The problems associated with balloon waste have led to five states to ban or limit intentional balloon releases, with eight others considering restrictions, the Free Press reported. However, Michigan is not among them, the publication said.

Alliance spokeswoman Jennifer Caddick told the Free Press the balloon waste is “really dramatic and troubling,” and “paints a picture of the bigger plastic pollution problem plaguing the Great Lakes, our oceans, and really the entire planet.”

The pollution has also reportedly caused problems for wildlife that are in danger of ingesting or getting wrapped up in the balloon waste. Lara O’Brien, a master’s degree student at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability, cited a March survey out of the University of Tasmania that found “Balloons are the highest-risk plastic debris item for seabirds” and are “32 times more likely to kill them than ingesting hard plastics,” according to the Free Press.

The Free Press said the Trenton, New Jersey-based Balloon Council — which represents balloon retailers, distributors and manufacturers — said it has “never supported or sponsored any balloon releases” yet has lobbied to the tune of “more than $1 million to change or stop proposed laws to restrict balloons,” according to the Free Press.

Lorna O’Hara, council executive director of the Balloon Council, told the Free Press that the organization is “not opposing balloon release bans, but we would prefer educational programs” where people could “continue to be able to use balloons, enjoy them, and then dispose of them properly.”

The group, O’Hara told the Free Press, fears bans would hurt “small operators — decorators, a lot of women-owned, family-owned small businesses.”