Forstater: Deflating threats to natural world

Temple should consider the harsh effects of littering when decorating campuses with balloons.

Toby Forstater

Toby ForstaterIn the Northeastern Atlantic Ocean, a bird is strangled. Cause of death: balloons. Turtles are found dead with 40 pounds of balloons in their stomachs. In 1985, an infant sperm whale, an endangered species, was found dead, after one balloon and string was lodged in its esophagus.

Today, balloons hang from trees and buildings on Temple’s Ambler and Main campuses without concern.

Some folks on Ambler Campus, however, are paying attention to the risks of improperly disposed balloons for wildlife and are making moves away from the colored latex, Mylar and nylon balloons. The Ambler Campus Sustainability Council aims to begin encouraging Ambler faculty, students and staff to use balloon alternatives.

“Birthday parties and any kind of celebration today seem to be filled with balloons, even graduations,” co-chair of the ACSC Anne Brennan, said. “People seem hardwired to like balloons, but more and more people are saying, ‘Wow, we shouldn’t be doing this anymore.’”

It seems like a minimal effort has been made to remove the neglected balloons stuck in trees, which should be a major concern of all students who value the safety of other species. Balloons have littered our environment for decades. Rarely are they cleaned and properly disposed of, but with enough effort from Main Campus and Ambler students, this could change in the near future.

Brian Linton, founder of the clothes and apparel store United by Blue, is a Temple alumnus who is leading the way in the effort.

For every product purchased at his store, he promises to pick up a pound of trash. With the help of more than 3,500 volunteers, UBB has excavated 171,000 pounds of trash in more than 100 cleanups in 21 states nationwide. Without such cleanups, birds become trapped and usually die. Unfortunately, we don’t have accurate statistics to depict the predicament because few are paying attention.

Brennan, Robert Kuper, co-chair of the Ambler Campus Sustainability Council, and Deborah Howe, chair of community and regional planning department, are taking notice. They said it is important for others to notice, too, with an aim to garner support from the student body. The main concern is the waste of helium and non-recyclable balloons, the use of which they hope to discourage.

Most everyone is familiar of the spectacle of balloons floating into the clouds. However, catching a breeze could blow them right into the ocean.

According to, “Balloons can travel thousands of miles and pollute the most remote and pristine places. Dolphins, whales, turtles and many other marine species, as well as terrestrial animals such as cows, dogs, sheep, tortoises, birds and other animals have all been hurt or killed by balloons.”

The turtles, fish and other aquatic animals mistake the objects for food. Because the balloons are plastic, they cannot move past the stomach, making the animals feel full. They soon die of starvation with the trash caught in their digestive systems.

Other than balloons littering the earth and depleting wildlife, we are wasting tons of helium in the process. This finite resource is running low globally. Helium actually has practical uses: electronic manufacturing, science and medicine, such as MRIs. We shouldn’t be wasting this important resource for temporary and minor enjoyment.

Popular Mechanics notes that the U.S. Federal Helium Reserve, which supplies roughly 75 percent of the market, may only last another 5 to 10 years. A government mandate to eliminate U.S. sales is set for 2015.

All of this is why Kuper and Brennan are looking for alternatives to balloons. Already, the Ambler Student Government has purchased a reusable retractable banner. Other options for decorative purposes are flags, recycled origami and tear-drop banners.

“Some of these alternatives have higher initial costs, but they can be used for longer,” Kuper said. “The benefits, on the large scale, [are that] balloons don’t end up in the ocean and on campus. Also, so we don’t have to deal with these Mylar balloons without responsible disposal.”

The balloons being used on both Temple campuses are not recyclable. The ACSC is trying to focus on small, practical issues that can be addressed quickly, inexpensively and have a noticeable impact on campus.

“It seems, on our campus, even within the past year, much progress has been made,” Brennan said. “Recycling and other initiatives like switching to recycled printer paper. It seems like we’ve touched on some of the bigger issues that have the biggest impact. I think this is the right time for this.”

Toby Forstater can be reached at 

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