When released into the atmosphere, helium balloons are able to travel vast distances (more than 10,500 miles). Every balloon will eventually land, becoming litter on beaches, rivers, lakes, oceans, and other natural areas. As a direct result, seabirds and other wildlife can be injured or killed from ingesting the balloon debris and/or becoming entangled in the long ribbons or strings.
Between 2016 and 2018, volunteers with The Alliance for the Great Lakes picked up more than 18,000 pieces of balloon debris. The International Coastal Cleanup, an annual event organized by the Ocean Conservancy, recorded finding over 280,000 balloons in the United States and over 630,000 balloons worldwide between 2008 and 2016.
There are two types of balloons - mylar and latex. Mylar balloons, made from nylon (a plastic material) with a metallic coating, will never biodegrade. While natural latex balloons are biodegradable, they still take years to break down. Most latex balloons, however, are synthetic, made from the petroleum-derivative, neoprene (the same material used to create scuba diving wetsuits), and will remain in the environment indefinitely.