Putting Litter First: January

I almost wrote about something different this month. After all, this is a litter-related topic I’ve written about numerous times—here, here, and here to be precise—but in December a post made its way around social media about a baby donkey killed by eating a balloon. This was not the first animal—nor will it be the last—to be killed due to ingestion or entanglement.

It was a reminder that an important message hasn’t managed to permeate popular culture: balloon releases and sky lanterns are not a harmless bit of fun. This aerial litter is incredibly dangerous … even if it’s marketed as biodegradable.

Sea life frequently mistake popped balloons for tasty jellyfish. Birds get tangled in trailing string and ribbons. Sky lanterns are actually FIRE that has been set free to wander where it pleases, often with disastrous results. Mylar balloons in particular are known to cause power outages when they come into contact with power lines.

The Putting Litter First series is built on the idea that there is more we can do within our communities to tackle litter: we cannot expect litter picks alone to be a solution to stopping litter nor can we wait for the government to act. After all, if either of these options were effective, the problem would already be solved.

How can we better spread the word within our communities that balloon releases and sky lanterns are dangerous?

  • Consider sharing the problem with balloon/sky lantern releases on social media to help others become aware of the issue. Follow the Balloons Blow page on Facebook or check out their website—they have a lot of great resources.
  • Work within your community to get releases banned on the town/city/county level. Do you know any councillors who are sympathetic to the problem and who would be willing to guide you through how to get this on the agenda?
  • Memorial balloon releases are incredibly common, and it can be difficult to explain to a grieving friend or family member that they are compounding one tragedy with another. Do you know anyone in the media who would be willing to gently offer environmentally friendly alternatives when someone contacts them to promote a balloon release? There are so many ways to commemorate a lost loved one: blowing bubbles, scattering wildflower seeds, planting trees.

Ultimately, what goes up must come down, so let’s try to stop it going up in the first place.


The year-long series Putting Litter First (so we can see the end of it!) is about trying to find a middle ground when it comes stopping litter in our communities. Often, it seems like there’s a false choice presented: those who are working to stop litter can either run a litter pick or they can lobby government for higher fines or for programmes like the Deposit Return Scheme.

The problem with this dichotomy is that most of us are already doing the first bit. We’ve been picking up litter from Chippenham for six years without a noticeable decrease in the amount of rubbish found. On the other hand, waiting for the government to get its act together with higher fines, sensible enforcement, and a proper Deposit Return Scheme feels like an exercise in futility. We can (and we should) campaign for these changes, but, at the same time, we must recognise that the outcome is outside of our control.

Instead, I think there are things that can be done at the community level if enough people are willing to step forward to help make it happen. A big part of this involves making sure that the right people are aware of what tools are available and not re-inventing the wheel. Interested in learning more? Sign up to have the latest Putting Litter First blog post delivered to you on the first of every month.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *