IndyStar’s Emily Hopkins shares findings from an 11-month experiment to see how fast balloons biodegrade, ahead of the Indy 500 balloon release.
Jenna Watson, firstname.lastname@example.org
In a bit of citizen science, IndyStar conducted an experiment to test a claim that the balloons released by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway each year are biodegradable, and therefore pose little risk to wildlife.
And the results? Eleven months later, some of the balloons tested did degrade, but they still would pose a substantial risk.
IMS has released balloons on race day since the 1940s, one of many organizations to commemorate special occasions with the colorful spectacle. But in the decades since, awareness about the environmental damage caused by balloons, and other litter, has made many people rethink the practice.
Even the Balloon Council, which represents the industry, changed its stance on balloon releases last year from neutral to opposed. The group now recommends that balloons be weighted or tied down, and then popped and disposed of after they’re used.
IMS spokesman Alex Damron did not provide a comment for this story. In April, he told IndyStar that the balloon release would remain part of Indianapolis 500 tradition, but that IMS was evaluating feedback on the issue.
“We’re reaching out to several stakeholders and talking with experts to fully understand the impact of this practice and determine its status in the years ahead,” he said at the time.
On Sunday, as race fans listen to “Back Home Again in Indiana,” IMS plans to release several thousand balloons into the atmosphere again this year.
Ahead of the balloon release last year, IndyStar received complaints and Damron defended the tradition, highlighting its use of balloons that are “are 100 percent biodegradable” and made from natural rubber latex.
IndyStar decided to conduct the experiment after criticism continued. Damron did not confirm what brand of balloons IMS uses, but an IndyStar file photo from 2017 shows BSA Balloons, which are made of natural rubber latex.
Using that brand, IndyStar submerged two balloons into fresh water and two into salt water. Two more were placed in a pot of soil, and the final two were put in a compost pile in Hendricks County.
That’s where the balloons remained from June 29 until Tuesday.
The results: While some of the balloons did show some deterioration, most of them remained largely intact after nearly 11 months.
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