Composting Balloons

Kids love balloons!


One of the other things I do, and one of the most fun, is twisting balloons. I also facepaint, but the balloons led to a discovery.  At the end of a big day, like the workshop I will be teaching this coming week, I will have a bunch of balloon scraps. That, coupled with a comment a potential client made to me a few years back, led to an experiment. She told me she wasn’t interested in having balloons at her event because they weren’t “eco-friendly”. I didn’t argue with her (never argue with a client!) but it got me thinking and I ran it by my dad and did a little research. Why should balloons have a negative impact on the environment?


Hundreds of balloons ready for a workshop.


After a gig, I pick up and never leave balloon bits lying on the ground.


Balloons are made from latex, which is the sap of a tree, Hevea brasiliensis. I knew that, and didn’t see why the balloons shouldn’t be biodegradeable. So I set out to collect a couple of pounds of balloon scraps – not that difficult in the summer when it’s busy. I wanted a lot so I could actually see what happened to them in the compost pile, and a handful of scraps would just get lost in there. From my research I learned that balloons would decompose at the rate of an oak leaf – slowly, in other words. My research was also slowed by a dry summer that stalled out the compost pile for a couple of months.

Balloons in the compost pile.


By fall, as you can see above, the balloons were dry and brittle but hadn’t disappeared. Neither had a lot of other things! Lesson learned here was to water the pile in the summer every so often. Fast forward to spring, when we were moving the pile into beds for use. A few colorful fragments remained, which made both Dad and I laugh as we discovered them. The nozzles lasted longest, as they are the most dense part of the balloon. Otherwise, the latex had become dirt. Now, I don’t know what nutrients, if any, adding balloons to the compost pile gains us. But it is a good way to put the scraps back into the soil, thousands of miles from where they came out of the soil as a tree. This spring I was turning over the bed we had used the compost to build, two years after putting the balloons in the compost pile, and saw no trace of them, although there were lots of worms in that bed! I still add my scraps to the compost, although rarely in that quantity as I get a handful at each gig and I no longer twist balloons and paint faces for a living (as I was doing two years ago). They break down nicely in a thermophilic compost pile. Which makes me wonder – How would they do in the vermicompost? Hmmm… I think another experiment may be in order!

Pippa likes to help me load my balloon apron before a gig.