A Rising Concern: Reducing Balloon Debris through Social Marketing
Juvenile Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle - Ingested balloon ribbon(Photo Credit: Witherington FWC)
Sea Turtle Ingests Balloon Debris(Photo Credit: Witherington FWC)

Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program Department of Environmental Quality and the NOAA Marine Debris Program use social marketing to mitigate the impacts of balloon debris.

What’s the project?
People intentionally release balloons into the environment to celebrate events and commemorate special occasions. Balloon debris often ends up in streams, rivers, and the ocean where marine animals can ingest the balloons or become entangled by their attachments, causing great injury and even death.

Although many people make the connection that when balloons go up they eventually come back down to Earth, others—even those who would never consider littering by discarding a newspaper or candy wrapper—will release balloons accidentally or participate in a mass release of balloons without considering the end results. This project will research, develop, and implement a social marketing approach to reduce balloon debris.

What does it accomplish?
By conducting interviews, focus groups, and surveys, project staff will determine the underlying drivers of the balloon release behavior and find new and different ways to mark these important events. They will also design a social marketing campaign to encourage more environmentally sensitive activities to end balloon debris. The project will engage and educate party/event planners, funeral directors, car dealership employees, sports team managers and others who make decisions about balloon use. Balloon debris (types, quantities, and sources where possible) will be monitored before and after the campaign to assess the effectiveness of the campaign in reducing balloon litter in Virginia.

Who is involved?
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality partners with the NOAA Marine Debris Program on a Prevention through Education and Outreach funding opportunity to reduce balloon litter in coastal areas in Virginia. Ultimately, the campaign will be transferable to coastal areas around the country.

What is something unique about the project?
The social marketing strategy, designed to significantly reduce balloon releases, will address the issue at both the distributor and the end-user levels and will provide a start-to-finish approach to a specific litter type that can be used by other organizations, states, and regions to change behavior and reduce other forms of marine debris as well.