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Frequently asked questions
Who first discovered balloons and when?
The first balloons were made of animal intestines. Latex balloons as we know today were discovered by Michael Faraday in 1824. During this time whilst experimenting with gases and rubber, he laid two rubber sheets together and pressed the edges together. The tacky rubber would weld automatically, and the inside of the balloons were rubbed with flour to prevent the opposing surfaces sticking together. The following year, Thomas Hancock introduced toy rubber balloons to the public. In 1847, J. G. Ingram of London manufactured first vulcanized toy balloons and in the 1930’s, balloon technology developed rapidly and the toy balloon industry took root as novelty shapes and printed balloons were invented and developed.
What role does the EBPC play?
We are Europe’s leading voice representing all the key players in the balloon & party industry. Our members are made up of manufacturers, distributors and trade associations. As an industry that is robust and highly competitive, our role is to deliver the promise of our core values in Europe on behalf of our members.
All our members provide small products with a big impact. When it comes to quality & safety – we are one step ahead in the latest technology, developments & industry affecting impacts as they unfold. Our intelligence & member collaboration empowers us to address these impacts through regulatory bodies using a collective voice.
Are latex balloons biodegradable?
According to a report issued by Burchette, a latex balloon biodegrades at about the same rate as an oak leaf in natural soil conditions.
Following various scientific testing, we can confirm that latex balloons are biodegradable to approximately 90% within 2 years.
What is a latex balloon made of?
Latex balloons are made from natural latex tapped from the rubber tree – Hevea Brasiliensis, a completely natural product. Many people mistakenly think balloons are plastic – which are man made synthetic materials. Organic pigments are added to the latex to make hundreds of shades of brilliant and diverse colours.
How are balloons made?
The process of making balloons starts with bulb shaped moulds that are dipped into a vat of latex, drying as they move on through the production process. The end of each balloon is then rolled, creating the ring round the opening that makes it easier for the user to hold and inflate the balloon. The balloons are then immersed in hot water to trigger vulcanization and remove impurities. They are removed from the moulds and washed again to remove impurities and cleaned ready for sale. It takes about an hour for each single balloon to pass through the entire manufacturing process.
What happens to a balloon when it is released?
When a latex balloon is correctly inflated with helium and released, it should float to an altitude of approximately 5 miles. At this height, the low air pressure causes the balloon to expand and the low temperature causes the balloon to freeze. As the balloon becomes brittle it cannot expand any further and undergoes ‘brittle fracture’ into smaller fragments across its crystallised structure.
Do balloon releases kill animals
DEFRA – UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs undertook an assessment of livestock and environmental impacts of balloons and sky lanterns. This was an independent report and very few cases have been linked to balloons as a cause of death. We have identified 6 cases globally where animal deaths have been attributed directly to a latex or foil balloons since 1885 by autopsy. In some instances, the balloon had a string, valve or card attachment. Professional balloon releasers never attach valves or strings to balloons.
Do I need any permissions to release balloons?
We disagree with balloon releases but officially, if you live anywhere near an airfield you may need permission - please check with the Civil Aviation Authority on their website: www.caa.co.uk.
Is helium running out?
Use of helium balloons do not contribute to a shortage in the supply of helium as balloons do not use pure form of Helium. Currently, supply is meeting demand and new sources of helium are constantly being discovered around the globe such as in Qatar and Russia (from a helium gas manufacturer survey).
Is helium used in balloons wasted? Can it be put to better use in medical applications?
No. The helium used in balloons is currently a recovered form (or byproduct) of the gas which is impure and known as Grade H (otherwise known as balloon gas) at 97.5% helium content. Many scientific applications require Grade 5 or 4.5 purity. Some balloon gases are known to contain as little as 92% helium. Gas companies we have spoken to have advised us that balloon gas is a by product of other processes i.e. filling MRI scanners etc., that would have otherwise escaped if not caught and re-used.
Can captured helium be recycled and purified?
Gas companies have advised us that the technology to undertake this procedure is currently un-economical for helium manufacturers.
Is there such a thing as latex allergies?
Some people may suffer from latex allergies. If you think you are suffering from any unusual symptoms and have been handling latex balloons – please seek medical assistance.
Latex allergy sufferers will also react to some fruits containing natural latex and some plastic food packaging.
Will latex balloons give me a latex allergy?
According to our research and evidence from an international medical database:
What is the density of helium?
Helium is much lighter than air and has a density of 0.164 kg/m3.
Why does helium change my voice?
Due to the lighter density of helium, small amounts inhaled changes the timbre of your voice. The helium does not change the pitch – but the speed at which the sound travels through your vocal tract. Inhaling helium can be dangerous and it is not recommended. It can deprive your body of oxygen and result in fatality.
How much helium is used for balloons?
As an approximation, between 8 – 17% of helium production is used for lifting purposes which include Zeppelins, large advertising balloons and small balloons.
Don't forget, this helium is likely not pure and some of if would have come from capturing escaped gas from medical device filling applications.
What role do balloons play?
Balloons are for the young and old. Consumers consider balloons indispensable, with 91% of over 7000 surveyed consumers indicating that they enjoy playing with balloons. Nearly 80% agreed that balloons bring pleasure to people of all ages, and 62% consider that a party is not complete without balloons. Nearly 80% are against a total ban on balloons. Some people claim that balloons are one of the rare items that can be used for both sad and happy occasions to create memorable and emotional attachments. It also plays a huge part in charity work and promotional events.
Balloons can also be used for more than just decorations. They are a convenient marketing tool, can be used in exercised to develop motoric skills and they can help children understand the laws of science. The softness and lightness of a balloon means that young children in particular find it easier to throw and catch a balloon than a soft ball as they float rather than fly through the air. Recent medical breakthroughs have resulted in medical grade balloons which can be inserted into the stomach as an alternative non-invasive solution to gastric bands.
How big is the balloon industry?
The market for balloons and related accessories in the EU totals almost €540 million (not including Turkey and Russia, an additional €130m). The overall supply chain employs between 5000 and 6500 jobs in the EU from manufacturing to retail. The Government revenue from the industry totals between €126m and €143m per year.
Can I really lift myself up with helium balloons.
Yes - but we don't reccomend trying it. You will be at risk of injury and breaking the law. Here's just three bizarre stories:
In 1982, a man attached 40 helium balloons to a garden chair, rising to 16,000 feet over Long Beach, California. When the balloons burst, he fell, hitting power lines on his way down. Thankfully he survived but was heavily fined by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He was a fustrated truck driver who had a dream of becoming an Air Force Pilot. He also had bad eyesight.
In 2001, 46 year old pilot used 400 helium balloons to ascend 11,000 feet before using a parachute to descend back down safely.
A British adventurer has flown 25km (15.5 miles) across South Africa suspended from 100 helium balloons. He reached heights of 8,000ft (2,438m) while strapped to a camping chair, in scenes reminiscent of the Pixar smash Up. He spent two days inflating balloons ahead of the flight, which he described as "magical".
Can I send a camera to the edge of space?
Yes - infact quite a few people have done this already at a relatively low cost.
In 2006, three Cambridge University engineering students sent a camera to the edge of space using a helium balloon. For less than £1,000, they were able to take nearly 1,000 images of the curvature of the earth. Having flown to nearly four times the height of Mount Everest, the balloon burst at an altitude of 20m above sea level, releasing the camera, which successfully fell back to earth on a parachute.
Why are you so concerned about balloons and the Single Use Plastics (SUP) Directive when the European Commission says it has no intention of banning balloons?
The European Commission keeps mentions balloons and balloon sticks in marine litter statistics, even though the most robust statistics do not put either of item in the top 10. We feel this is unfair as it will lead to lower consumer confidence and impact our industry negatively.
What impact will the SUP Directive have on the balloon industry?
As well as the reputational damage, banning balloon sticks will have economic impacts and directly hit balloon sales, which puts tens of thousands of direct jobs at risk. In turn this will impact thousands of small independent retailers, decorators, entertainers and artists, who work hard to support their families.
Does the EBPC support the environmental issues?
The European Balloon & Party Council (EBPC) shares the aspirations of the European Commission to reduce marine litter. The industry is already undertaking voluntary initiatives to achieve the same objective of reducing litter (statement against balloon releases; labelling symbols).
Self-regulation is a more appropriate approach, especially in light of inconsistent data, and there has not been any impact assessment on the affects to our industry and jobs from the European Commission. Because of this, we believe the Commission has incorrectly included balloons and balloon sticks in the proposed SUP Directive. We believe there are more positive and effective ways of achieving the same goal without risking jobs and the economy.
The European Commission says that balloons (and balloon sticks) are 9th in the top 10 most common items of marine litter on Europe’s beaches. What is your view?
The most robust statistics from the OSPAR Commission make no mention of balloon sticks and only put balloons at 1% of litter by frequency. According to OSPAR data from 2010-2016, balloons rank 16th. Whereas the European Environment Agency (EEA) data puts balloons and balloon sticks at 0.39%, at number 36, nowhere near top 10.
Also, there is not one overall standard or methodology for compiling these statistics. Balloons and balloon sticks are only in top 10 due to ‘super categories’ introduced by the European Commission, for which clear methodology is lacking. Super categories allow the European Commission to target more products for inclusion in the SUP directive.
You say that balloons are only 1% of plastic items on beaches – that is still a lot, so what is your response to that?
Every piece of balloon found on beaches counts as 1 balloon. The statistics are by item count / frequency, and not by weight / overall volume, so two pieces of the same balloon could be counted as two items. This also means that one small balloon piece would be counted in the same way as one vehicle tyre. It is also very difficult to distinguish particles of balloons from other litter such as rubber gloves, so the two could be confused.
EBPC is not claiming that balloon releases are not a littering issue. Rather, the industry is already self-regulating and educating against balloon releases as well as encouraging responsible use and correct disposal of balloons. This is why we feel the proposed SUP Directive is disproportionate and will lead to high economic cost and negative social impact without tangible environmental gain.
What are you doing to help prevent balloon litter?
Since 2016 the EBPC and the membership have made strong public statements against balloon releases – that is our policy. The industry is working on a labelling symbol and education efforts to encourage the non-release of balloons, as well as responsible use and disposal. This can be found at www.partysafe.eu/balloons-the-environment.
Balloon sticks are plastic - what is the problem with limiting these?
Balloon sticks are not major litter or marine litter items, yet banning them will directly impact balloon sales and put tens of thousands of jobs at risk.
The sticks help prevent litter and unintended release by restraining the balloon while also allowing children to enjoy the balloon safely. Plastic balloon sticks are shatter-proof, they (unlike other materials) contribute to child safety as they are not a choking hazard. The industry is already working on alternatives but needs time to develop these and ensure they still meet the requirements of the Toy Safety Directive and the EN-71 Toy Safety Standards.
Are latex balloons plastic?
No! Latex balloons are made from natural rubber latex which is naturally occurring. They are more accurately described as an elastomeric rubber which has very different physical and chemical properties to plastics.
If latex balloons are not plastic, why are they included in the Directive?
Unfortunately, the REACH definition of plastics captures a broad range of materials with a broad range of characteristics. The definition captures monomers and polymers.
What is so different about the way a latex balloon breaks down in nature?
Plastics, as we know it, are generally made from oil-based products, are rigid and break down into smaller particles of between 3-5 mm in size. Natural rubber latex balloons disintegrate completely and are elastomeric which does not give rise to the same issues as rigid plastic. Latex balloons will disintegrate in a matter of 1-3 years where as plastics can take upwards of 100 years.