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The big charity balloon debate
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Last year, the chief exec of one of our clients – a Top 10 UK charity - opened a letter from a concerned donor. She was deeply worried about the environmental impact of the release of thousands of balloons in a planned fundraising event.

It’s an issue that’s becoming top of mind for charity supporters. Many of us enjoy the spectacle of balloons floating in a sunny sky. But we’re all becoming more and more aware of what’s left behind when the crowds have gone home.

We investigated the question in quite a bit of detail, and you can read our full environmental briefing here.

If you’d like a speedy summary, our recommendations for charities or other groups considering a balloon release event are as follows:

1. Consider alternative options

We recommend careful consideration of the environmental and reputational risks before opting for a balloon release campaign or event.

Alternatives could include: planting seedlings with biodegradable message tags or tying messages to a mature tree or other spectacular structure. If you want a race event, there is now even a virtual option (see Resources, listed in the environmental briefing), or you could design your own ‘race’ using Facebook or Twitter...

2. Check local regulations & inform the authorities

Some local authorities have now banned balloon releases in their area, so if you do decide to use balloons, make sure that you check local legislation.

If you plan to release more than 5,000 balloons you must also apply for permission from the Civil Aviation Authority in advance. It is also good practice to inform them of smaller balloon release events.

3. Use responsible suppliers

The trade body for balloon suppliers is NABAS. They have a Code of Good Practice for minimising the environmental impact of balloon events, which their members sign up to. To find a NABAS member, go to the NABAS website, where you can search for suppliers in your area.

4. Choose biodegradable balloons

Always choose natural latex balloons, which are biodegradable. FSC certified and Fair Trade balloons are also available.

5. Don’t add any extras

Don’t attach any string or ribbon to your balloons. Tie balloons by hand rather than using a plastic valve.

If you want to add messages, consider writing on the balloons themselves rather than adding labels. Any weight added to the balloon may prevent it from rising to the height necessary for it to disintegrate. If you must add a label, make sure it is fully biodegradable (e.g. paper), and as light as possible.

6. Fill the balloons completely

Make sure that your supplier or event organiser fills your balloons completely with helium. Unfilled balloons will not rise high enough to disintegrate, and may float at a low level for many miles before landing in one piece.

So, you may be wondering – did our Top 10 charity cancel their fundraising event? The answer is ‘no’… But they found a new way of running an equally memorable occasion. Inside!