Should helium balloons really be banned?!

I have read several articles lately calling for helium balloons to be banned, citing their adverse environmental impact and how they diminish the supply of helium available for medical use. These calls are largely based on a lack of information, and I hope this blog will help to clarify some of the perceived issues.

Foil balloons, and balloons with ribbons attached should NEVER be released

Balloon releases

Pictures are frequently posted of wildlife which have been injured, or worst still have died, from ingesting or being caught in balloons and their ribbons, and as a responsible balloon professional I absolutely hate the release of these balloons.

Within our industry, we promote best practice which states that foil balloons, and helium balloons with any non-biodegradable attachments such as valves and ribbons MUST NOT be released. Only latex balloons filled with helium up to a maximum of 12” and hand tied are allowed to be used. On their release the balloons should rise to c. 5 miles high, at which point they shatter into tiny fragments and return to earth where they decompose in about the same amount of time as an oak leaf and have a minimal effect on the environment.

Whilst I and NABAS (my industry association) try hard to educate both our actual and potential clients, unfortunately there will always be those who are less responsible and don’t care about the impact of their actions. I personally don’t offer balloon releases, but if you wish to go ahead with one, please ensure that you use a responsible retailer and please don’t ask or expect to use foil balloons or any ribbons / attachments!

Follow this link for more information on the NABAS code of conduct for balloon releases.

Helium for medical ‘v’ balloon use

In order to provide a definitive, fact based view on the difference between medical and balloon gas, BOC have kindly provided the following statement;

“It’s important to be aware that there is a distinction between pure, liquid helium and impure, gaseous helium. Gas companies prioritise supplies of pure, liquid helium for critical medical uses e.g. MRI scanners in hospitals, ensuring that they can remain fully operational.

Helium for balloons is a different product – it is impure and gaseous and produced as a by-product of supplying liquid helium for the MRI market – a market which makes up about forty percent of the helium business in the UK. Impure, gaseous helium cannot be used directly in medical MRI scanners or in other applications that use super-conducting magnets. Impure helium can be recovered by the customer and reliquefied if the customer has the necessary plant on site, and if not, it can still be recovered and reprocessed for use in the balloon market.

Industrial gas companies do support the recovery and reprocessing of helium to ensure that every opportunity is taken to recycle and reuse this important resource. Historically, recovery has only been viable for large users of helium, but new opportunities are consistently being reviewed and implemented with customers to help them conserve and reuse their helium.

For the future, there is still plenty of helium on our planet, with investments being made to bring various new sources on-stream in the coming years. The locations and environments of these new sources will mean the market price for helium is expected to continue to rise, but making these investments will mean that helium will continue to be available for many years to come. Rising prices in the market will also drive an increase in investment in the means by which customers can recover more of their own helium.“

(January 2018)

Claire Carney is an independent florist, a Certified Balloon Artist and NABAS Approved Balloon Décor Instructor based near Norwich, Norfolk, UK.