Caring for the Environment


Balloons - in one form or another - have been around for centuries. But the modern latex balloon - the kind you can blow up yourself - was invented only a little more than 70 years ago in New England, USA. A chemical engineer, frustrated in his attempts to make inner tubes from this new product - liquid latex - shaped a cat's head from a piece of cardboard and dipped it in the latex. When it dried, Neil Tillotson had a 'cat balloon' complete with ears. He made about 2 000 balloons and sold them on the street during Boston's annual Patriot Day parade. Latex balloons are still made from dipping forms into latex, but the process is now mechanised.

Early balloons were made from pig bladders and later from a rubber similar to that used to make gum boots. Today's latex balloons are 100 per cent natural - they are made from a milky substance from rubber trees. Latex balloons are not made from plastic.

In the late 1970's, silver metallised balloons were developed for the New York City Ballet. These balloons are commonly called mylar, but they are actually made from a metallised nylon and are more expensive than latex balloons.

Today, balloons are floating greeting cards. Almost 80% are used to deliver messages - from "Happy Birthday" to a proud "Mum, you're the best".

Balloon Manufacturing

Latex balloons are produced from the milky sap of the rubber tree, Hevea brasillensis. The rubber tree originated in the tropical forests of South America and was taken to Europe from Brazil - hence the Latin name. It is now grown on plantations in many tropical countries. The latex is collected in buckets, as it drips from harmless cuts in the bark. The process is much like that used to collect maple syrup. The use of latex balloons and other products, such as surgical gloves and condoms, make rubber trees economically valuable, which discourages people from cutting them down and provides a valuable revenue to many third world countries.


Latex is a 100 per cent natural substance that breaks down both in sunlight and water and should never be confused with plastic. The degradation process begins almost immediately after a balloon is manufactured. Oxidation, the "frosting" that makes latex balloons look as if they are losing their colour, is one of the first signs of the process. Exposure to sunlight quickens the process, but natural microorganisms attack natural rubber, even in the dark.

Research shows that under similar environmental conditions, latex balloons will biodegrade at about the same rate as a leaf from an oak tree. The actual total degradation time will vary depending on the precise conditions.

To read the full report on this research please visit

Saving the Rainforests 

Rubber trees, from which the latex for balloons is harvested, are one of the main forms of vegetation in tropical rain forests, which in recent years have become crucial to maintaining the earth's fragile ecological balance. Harvesting latex can be more profitable to poor third world nations than raising cattle on the deforested land.

Even when the trees producing latex for balloon manufacturing grow on plantations instead of in rain forests, they help the ecosystem, as the natural biology of the trees helps maintain our atmosphere and protect the ozone layer. The demand for latex balloons actually is a huge contributor to a more positive environment in which global warming is increasingly worrying scientists and environmentalists. The balloon industry worldwide requires the latex from 16-million rubber trees that, in total, take up more than 363-million kilograms of CO2 gases annually from the earth's atmosphere.