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McDonalds: a big let-down for sealife

Matthew Chatfield
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Today The Ranger was looking at a culvert by a slipway down on the River Medina. Much of the Medina is within one of the world’s most protected areas, and has the highest possible legal protection in the UK for its wildlife – specifically the birds. So it’s not the sort of place you really want to put any rubbish unless you have to do so. It’s also a busy leisure harbour and an important tourist attraction – the world-famous Cowes Week is held in the mouth of the river Medina, for a start. Another good reason not to mess it up. It’s pretty important, see? So he was pretty disappointed to see this washed up there:

Balloon washed up on River Medina

A promotional balloon, released and then returned to earth via the river. Whilst it was, at least, a latex balloon which will eventually rot away, it also featured a plastic insert which will not, and undoubtedly at some point it had been separated from its plastic ribbon, which is itself likely to hang around tangling things up for a very long time. Remember “Balloons – how they kill wildlife, and what to do about it“? Of course you do. It was a Ranger Rant about the problem of balloon releases and the damage that balloons can do when they come back down to earth, especially to marine wildlife. If you want to know more of the argument against balloon releases, see the Marine Conservation Society site. So, who could be so insensitive? The Ranger picked up the offending article to pop it into the nearby bin and soon noticed where it originated:

McDonalds logo on balloon

Now, McDonalds can’t be blamed for all the world’s ills. There are plenty of companies who issue balloons. But it’s perhaps not entirely inappropriate that this company – sometimes held up as a jaded symbol of big business and cynical marketing – is the one to provide this particular balloon. Perhaps they should consider just tying their balloons rather than using a plastic bung, and using biodegradable string. So, what can you do? Thinking of a balloon release? Don’t. There are far more fun things to do with balloons that don’t harm anything. And if you know of a release planned you can report it online here, as well as request some great free promotional material. Have fun with balloons – but don’t let our marine wildlife down! UPDATE: No, it’s not all McDonald’s – today the following specimen was seen only about 250m from the last one:

Pizza Hut balloon on river Medina

Matthew Chatfield

Uncooperative crusty. Unofficial Isle of Wight cultural ambassador. Conservation, countryside and the environment, with extra stuff about spiders.

2 thoughts on “McDonalds: a big let-down for sealife

  • It seems (2010) that the latest balloon like fad is chinese lanterns. Our local guide troop wanted to release some from our Country Park for their Festival of Light. When I asked about the litter issue, I was told “It’s alright, they should go out of the City, and the tissue will dissolve” !!! I pointed out that the wire frame was also a potential hazard for wildlife, possibly tangling in a tree and catching a birds legs, or landing in a field and being trodden on by livestock, injuring its foot. Needless to say they were not given permission, but probably went elsewhere.

  • Whether it’s the impact upon wildlife or an increase of littering within the country-side, the views of many are causing an impact on balloon companies. USA state bans, event cancellations and campaigners are all adding to the media interest about the waste produced from mass balloon releases.

    In Concord, Massachusetts a bill has been passed classing balloon releases in the same category as littering. If imposed strictly, a single balloon released into the atmosphere could impose a $250 fine by the’balloon police’.

    Two e-petitions have appeared on the downing street web site within the last month. One requests a total ban and another in favour of banning foil and plastic products being released.

    An “Eco-School” in Scotland has been praised by the “Marine Conservation Society” for cancelling its annual balloon release after being educated on its environmental concerns. The MCS produced a fact pack titled “Don’t let go” campaigning an end to death by balloon indigestion and the UK rivers network has advice for event organisers offering alternative balloon fundraising ideas.

    While the balloon industry has sometimes shunned the wildlife impact, usually quoting references from an official 1989 paper where no link between wildlife death and latex balloon could be found, the increased awareness from major organisations has seen a shift to identifying a problem. The Balloon Association now gives blame to weighted or incorrectly inflated balloons not reaching a 5 mile height. It’s at this point a balloon will become brittle and shatter.

    As a provider to balloon services, we have decided against offering balloon releases. Latex balloons used in our displays are 100% bio-degradeable. Knots are used to tie balloons and not plastic inserts.


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