Monday, May 20, 2013

A Ballooning Risk

Virtually every aspect of our society has some downside risks to nature, not all of them obvious.  Most of you are familiar with the risk that birds face from wind farms, cars, windows, cats and even rice at weddings.  Jet engines are a risk to birds and vice versa.  But balloons?  It turns out that the release of balloons, both individually and in large numbers at events present a risk to our feathered friends.  A story in Birding/ explains.
  1. Balloon fragments and deflated balloons are a choking or intestinal obstruction hazard to birds that mistake them for something edible.
  2. The strings and ribbons tied around a balloon present the risk of tangling their feet, similar to the problem with fishing line.  Tangle injuries can occur to nestlings when these materials have been incorporated in the nests.
  3. There is an indirect effect of expanding rubber plantations which displace diverse habitats.
We commonly find balloons and fragments out in the wild where they have landed or tangled in our trees.  This form of litter joins "Walmart balloons," i.e. airborne plastic bags on a windy day, as an environmental eyesore.  In 2008 Walmart announced their commitment to reducing the number of plastic bags used.  We have long suspected that their switch from distinctive blue bags to glaring white bags blowing in the fields around your nearest Supercenter was to hide their source.

It turns out to be more complex than that.  The white bags are also less recyclable.  Colored bags can be made with more recyclable material than white bags according to
"Essentially, the darker a bag is, the more recycled content it can contain. A white plastic bag can only contain about 10 percent recycled content, which is typically only post-industrial, not post-consumer, waste. A blue bag can contain about 35 percent post-consumer recycled content, with gray bags moving closer to 40 percent. "
So why are there so many white bags around?  Like Mr. Robinson's whispered answer "Plastics" in The Graduate, the secret word here is marketing.  Simply put, store logos don't show up well on gray or blue bags.  How important is that?  Probably not very, but tell that to the person getting big bucks to promote your store.

The good news is an estimated 45-60% of plastic bags get re-purposed by consumers, lining trash cans and picking up dog poop.  A bigger disappointment is the volume of bags actually recycled.  With available techniques, they can get close to 100% recyclable materials in a plastic bag but that doesn't help if the bag doesn't get recycled.  Once again, the weak link in the recycling chain is between the consumer and the availability of convenient recycling options.

1 comment:

  1. Good news regarding a remanufactured product as a result of recycling plastic bags...

    From plastic bags to... decking, playground equipment and park benches. I believe the Springfield Nature Center and Dickerson Park Zoo both have on their premises, a walkway or bridge area produced from plastic bags. (Might need to verify both locations)

    How neat is that!

    Tana Pulles