The Blue Planet Society has compiled a series of pictures that show the deeply concerning reality of what happens to McDonald’s balloons once their role as a child’s toy has ended. The balloons, just like all non-biodegradable plastics, have a long afterlife – and they are being washed up on coastlines at a rate of around one balloon a day.

Balloons from British branches of the fast-food giant have been found washed up across the North Sea, as far away as the coastlines of Belgium and Germany, The London Economic reports. Blue Planet Society collected 300 images of washed up balloons in around a year.

“In the marine environment, balloons are unlike any other form of human waste – they mimic marine food,” founder John Hourston explained. “If they go into the atmosphere they blow up, become shredded and end up falling down in fragments. They end up in the stomachs of seabirds, turtles, whales, and dolphins.”

“We know that plastics in the environment attract pollutants. To get to nanoplastics, they have to be in the marine environment for months or years. Nanoplastics are so small that they could be absorbed through the gut walls of humans. It is a ticking time bomb. We are in the stage that we were with smoking in the 1950s and 1960s.”

Most of the balloons come from Great Britain, but there are also some from other countries. “We get these balloons sent to us from all over Europe, from Shetland and Orkney. The nearest McDonald’s is Elgin, east of Inverness. They have been found in Wadden Sea, a UNESCO world heritage site, across the North Sea.”

As Hourston emphasizes, the balloons are “a lethal form of airborn[e] litter.” They are especially dangerous since they can travel hundreds of miles. Afterward, the latex balloon itself becomes ingested, the ribbon causes entanglement, and the plastic tubing breaks down into microplastics.


The organization hopes the images will help in lobbying McDonald’s to ditch balloons. Hourston has written to the British CEO of McDonald’s to raise those concerns and points out that the company could easily change this part of their Happy Meal promotion given their global profits. A spokesman for the chain stated that helium balloons are no longer in use in the majority of its coastal restaurants.

Ingesting plastic by wildlife can lead to intestinal blockages, and the eaten material releases dangerous toxins into the animal’s body. Whole handfuls of plastics have been removed from stomachs of countless deceased seabirds and marine animals. Find out what are some things you can do to reduce the amount of plastic waste you leave in the environment by checking One Green Planet’s #CrushPlastic campaign.

All image source: Blue Planet Society/Facebook