Recycling Q&A: What Can We Do About Balloons?

Recycling Q&A: What Can We Do About Balloons?

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series of recycling Q&A tips from Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland. Got a question or idea for a recycling tip? Contact Jarland at 630-208-3841 or recycle@countyofkane.org.

Ah, balloons.

They are fun. They are colorful. But are they recyclable?

Crazy Recycling Family: Subject: Balloons 🎈

Good afternoon Jennifer,

It’s the crazy recycling family. We have another question and as you can see from the subject it’s about balloons.

We just wanted to know how to recycle balloons? The rubber/ latex type and the foil/ Mylar type. We had conflicting information on the internet, but we knew you could clear it up for us.

We had heard of animals getting a hold of the balloons and could harm or kill the animals. So, we thought we would get the information right from the proverbial horse’s mouth.

Thank You, and have a great weekend!

Jarland, Jennifer — RE: Balloons 🎈

'Nature Nearby': Hold On, Party-Goers! Balloons Are Killing Wildlife

Hey there you, Crazy (in the best way) Recyclers,

To my knowledge, and for all general intents and purposes, balloons are not recyclable.

I venture to assume that they are not accepted in any curbside single stream program in this country, despite information you may see online (possibly perpetuated by balloon manufacturers?) that they can be accepted.

It would be impossible to sort them out using the technology that currently exists, and even if they could sort them (which they can’t) they would need to be cleaned and marketed to someone turning them into something new, and I do not know of a viable market for recycling those kinds of materials. Incineration for energy recovery, maybe.

Try TerraCycle

The materials that balloons are made of may be recyclable if pre-sorted and kept separate from other materials (see TerraCycle Zero Waste Box mail in programs, like this one for party decs) but the cost would be prohibitive to many, and I do not know of any local programs that accept them.

I believe that TerraCycle programs forward the material on to a plastic-lumber manufacturing company, like Trex. Ultimately that is a down-cycling process rather than a re-cycling process. Because, while there are companies that might take plastic lumber for recycling once it is at its purposeful end, they are few and far between.

Take your Mylar balloons back to the store. (CREDIT: WikiHow)

As I am sure you found in your online research, some Mylar balloons are reusable, and you can have them refilled at some party stores. But if you are filling them yourself, then there is also that waste (the tank) when finished, because I hear that stores that supply them do not always take back the empty helium canisters!

I direct people with helium tanks, and other pressurized gas canisters (like propane) to the Crusher (651 W Washington St., West Chicago, 630-231-6888) for metal recycling.

Of course, the other thing about helium-filled balloons is that they frequently get loose (or heaven forbid — are “released” in celebration) into the environment causing a litter issue and a wildlife hazard. Check out Balloons Blow, who’s mottos is, “Don’t Let Them Go!”

If you need to landfill them (aka throw them away), I am seeing from my own online research that a common recommendation to protect wildlife, like this one from the Sierra Club, is to “deflate and cut balloons and any ribbon into small pieces, sealing them tightly in a bag before discarding them.”

Basically, my advice, as it is for any single use items, would be to avoid balloons entirely. Instead: Use cloth flag banners that can be reused for years. Plant trees to celebrate special occasions, which will be enjoyed and remembered far into the future, unlike the temporary enjoyment brought by decorating with balloons. Use reusable paper streamers.

Thank you for being a crazy recycling family; much appreciation for all that you do!

Sincerely,

Jen

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