FAQs balloon releases
Balloon releases (or races) have always been popular
with schools, but sadly they can have a catastrophic impact on the
If you have your heart set on a balloon release, and have the
authority to proceed, what can you do to reduce the risks? We put
this and other frequently-asked questions to the team at NABAS, the
National Association of Balloon Artists and Suppliers...
Do we need a licence for a balloon release?
No, but you must contact your local authority within 28 days
prior to the release, as many have banned balloon releases on
council-owned land. Releases exceeding 5,000 balloons should not
take place unless they have been cleared in advance with all
relevant air traffic and local authorities.
What material should our balloons be made from?
You should always use latex, since it is a natural substance
(made from tree sap), is fully biodegradable and decomposes at
about the same rate as an oak leaf under the same conditions. Latex
balloons begin to break down approximately one hour after
Foil balloons and bubble balloons should NOT be released. Foil
is an artificial substance made from metal-coated plastic, and
bubble balloons are formed from a stretchy plastic. Neither of
these materials are biodegradable. Bubble balloons also reach much
higher altitudes and could become a hazard to aircraft.
Can we tie our balloons together with string or ribbons and
release them in clusters?
No - you should never tie balloons together in bunches. Always
disperse balloons singly. No ribbons or strings must be attached to
the balloons, as they take much longer to decompose. There is also
a risk that animals may become entangled and suffer internal
problems should they try to eat the ribbon or string.
We are concerned that animals will be harmed if they ingest
deflated balloons. What precautions can we take?
Animals have been known to ingest deflated balloons, but
providing the balloons are made from latex, there should be no harm
done. Latex is non-toxic and the dyes used in colouring the
balloons are non-toxic, so all components re-enter the food chain
safely. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that a latex
balloon has ever caused the death of an animal.
Helium is a natural gas used in medicine and surgical
operations, but supplies are depleting. Is it ethical to use it for
a balloon release?
It is important to distinguish the difference between helium
used for balloons and other lifting, and helium used for medical
and cryogenic applications. Both originate from the same source,
but balloon-gas is unrefined and contains about 2% of other gases.
It also helps with the balloon's decomposition. Both are
non-flammable and non-toxic, but balloon-gas is definitely
unsuitable for scientific or medical applications.
What other precautions should we take?
- Balloons must be hand-tied and plastic valves should not be
- Balloons that contain any metallic pigment, such as silver or
gold, should not be used.
- Any attached labels (NO strings or ribbons) must be made of
paper, preferably recycled.
- Balloons larger than 12 inches cannot be released.
- All balloons sold near balloon releases must be weighted to
prevent them from escaping.
- Balloons will float up to a height of approximately five miles,
where they become brittle and shatter into miniscule pieces.
Problems can arise when a balloon is not inflated properly and
therefore doesn't reach the height at which shattering occurs. Make
sure all balloons are properly inflated.
- Consider using a NABAS member. Find
details of members on the NABAS directory.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Always investigate all the repercussions
thoroughly when deciding on this type of event. Consider
alternative ideas, including a virtual release offered by a
supplier such as Rent A Balloon Race.
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