“Pure” Michigan? Not Quite.

Helium-filled balloon with ribbons tangled in the lake
Helium-filled balloon with ribbons tangled in the lake

Remember my post about picking up balloons in the lake at Bald Mountain a few weeks ago? I’ve picked up more than a few since that day. So you’ll understand why I was discouraged today when I found out about a big festival in the city right next to us that will include a mass balloon release this week. That’s right, Sterling Heights, Michigan, apparently does this every year at their Sterlingfest event. They send a large number of latex balloons into the environment, less than ten miles from beautiful Lake Huron.

Of all the states that have laws against balloon releases, you’d think the state with a motto of “Pure Michigan” would be one of them. But no. And that’s really too bad. A balloon release isn’t good anywhere, but so close to a large waterway seems to be one of the worst possible places to do this.  Along with lots of other people who have joined the effort to stop this event, I’ve spent some time today sending emails and calling the various entities associated with the balloon release, asking them to cancel what amounts to a mass littering event. And I’ve got more calls to make tomorrow. I feel discouraged because it’s such short notice. I don’t think they’ll respond to the public outcry this year, but I have lots of hope that this will raise their awareness level enough that they’ll plan something else for next year’s festival.

And after watching the promotional video on the Sterlingfest website, I can tell that this is a fantastic community event, just the kind I love to attend. Art, music, food…fun for the whole family. It’s just too bad it has to be marred by that balloon release.

The organizers keep deleting all the comments on their Facebook page, even though the comments are (were) overwhelmingly polite in tone. So I wanted to write about it here in hopes that people will find this blog post when they search the web for “Sterlingfest” or “balloon release.” It might not help stop it this year, but this post will be sitting out here in the ethernet to be found later, so it’s worth a few minutes to write this.

Another one of the ways used to encourage change in a situation like this is to contact the corporate sponsors of the relevant event. Often the sponsors’ names are printed on the balloons as a marketing tactic. Seems clever, but I don’t think the corporations have yet realized what happens when their “branded trash” washes up on lake or river shores far from home. Take a look at the Wall of Shame at BalloonsBlow. I’d hate to see any local businesses show up on that page. Nobody needs that kind of publicity!

So I’ve also been sending messages to the sponsors listed on the festival website. Believe it or not, one of the sponsors of the event is Waste Management, a local trash and recycling company. That, boys and girls, is the definition of irony. I have yet to get connected to a live person on any of my calls though, so I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of how the message is being received. I’ve seen some of my friends on FB reporting that the City Manager seems receptive, so that’s very good.

Photo by Jerry Downs, licensed via Creative Commons
Photo by Jerry Downs, licensed via Creative Commons

But in the midst of all my frustration over this event, I have to keep reminding myself that only a couple years ago I was ignorant of the issues with these balloon releases too. So acting holier-than-thou isn’t a morally honest way to teach other people about the issue. They just haven’t thought about it yet, that’s all. We have to be calm and logical when we explain the reasons this is a bad idea: it pollutes the land and water; animals often eat the balloons or become entangled in the ribbons, resulting in slow and painful death; helium is a resource in short supply and needed for lots more important uses than this, etc…..see the BalloonsBlow website for the whole story. I believe that if we just keep speaking up, people will eventually realize that they don’t want to be part of something that’s really no different than buying a box of balloons and dumping them in the street in front of your house. It’s littering, end of story. No matter how pretty the balloons look as they float up into the sky, they still pollute the environment and kill wildlife. People are generally shocked when they find out that these balloons sometimes travel hundreds of miles from the launch sites. I think of it as throwing your trash in someone else’s back yard. Sure, they’ll decompose….eventually. But before they decompose, they’re litter, plain and simple. Just because you don’t have to see it on the ground doesn’t mean it isn’t trash.

Ok, I think I’ve said what I needed to on this issue. So now that I’ve had my say about balloons, I can get back to watching the baby robins in our nest. They’re very active now! We’ve got our spotting scope set up in the kitchen so we can watch their little fuzzy heads pop up when mommy and daddy arrive to feed them. I’m trying to get some more pictures to share with you too, so stay tuned!

P.S. If you want to help convince Sterling Heights of the error of their ways, you can send a polite email to them at cityhall@sterling-heights.net. 🙂


  1. Kim, I hate seeing balloons in the environment and I see them far too often. I have been tempted to walk around with a sign on my back stating that Balloons Blow and why. A few weeks ago I saw a woman driving a mid sized car on the Interstate with the entire back seat area full of balloons (don’t know how she saw through the rearview mirror) and I actually cringed and felt like crying because I could see them released and endangering wildlife.

    Good work on trying to get the festival to stop releasing balloons.

    I like that this post will hang around and that someone might learn about the dangers that balloons can cause.


    • Thanks, Mia. Y ou might want to contact the girls at Balloons Blow…they just sent me a nice bumper sticker and several decals. Our use of those bumper stickers will help raise awareness of the issue, and maybe even spark some good parking lot conversations. I’m trying to think of it like this: Sure, I’m only one person. But I learned about this issue from “only one person” too, and I’ve been spreading the message. If each of us tells only one other person about the dangers of balloon releases, imagine how quickly the message can spread. There really is power in the message, “Each one teach one.” Thanks for reading and commenting!


  2. You know Kim…….this kind of Post does get people involved and woke up. It does not scare them off nor make them feel like they have to do so much. It also makes them aware of many other environmental things they NEVER thought of before. Great Job. By the way. Just who is PURE Michigan? I can no longer find out out. They started as a private Non-Profit group who became so corrupt. They would give publicity if you followed their ways, and so on. They are nothing for any of us to be proud of or to follow in their foot steps. It is a big CON in connection with our DNR and THEIR plans for our State. Not OUR plans for our State. Pure Michigan is the DNRs Promo agency. Just like Germany before the last War.


  3. Thanks for the email address and I WILL be sending them a kind plea to stop this ridiculous tradition. As you say, the more attention this situation gets about the negative aspect of the balloon release, the more likely they are to “trash” the tradition. Also, it doesn’t hurt for groups to politely picket at an event such as this to bring people to awareness. Having graphic photos of the endless trash, and deaths of wildlife showing the catastrophic results, is often effective the very first time an outcry is exhibited. As long as it’s done in a polite and educational manner, people don’t feel threatened and they realize the mark these seemingly harmless traditions bring to our environment.

    This is one of your most awesome posts, Kim! I believe your words can make a difference!


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