Releasing red balloons at Husker games is a 50-year tradition, but a Florida-based group says it’s time for it to end.
The small grassroots group, called “Balloons Blow,” has put up a billboard in Lincoln urging fans to: “Stop Littering, End The Balloon Release!” The billboard is at about 3800 S. Ninth St., near the intersection of South Ninth Street and Pioneers Boulevard.
Danielle Vosburgh, co-founder of the nonprofit group, said the release of balloons is harmful because wildlife can ingest the pieces that fall back to earth.
“Releasing balloons is simply littering,” she said. “What goes up must come down.”
The billboard was put up Monday and will remain up for about three more weeks, she said.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln released a statement in response: “We haven’t discontinued our balloon tradition, but we recognize the concerns raised about our environment and our birds, fish and animal friends,” the statement said. “We too are concerned with their safety. For that reason, every balloon released in Memorial Stadium is 100 percent natural latex biodegradable. ... In addition, we do not use plastic tabs to tie off the balloons and we use 100 percent cotton strings.”
Fans release the balloons to celebrate the first Husker scoring drive. During last season fewer than 3,000 balloons were released per game, the university said.
It’s not the first time the balloon tradition has raised environmental concerns.
So what do fans think?
Dave Schatz of Omaha said he’s offended that an out-of-state group would try telling Nebraskans what to do.
“I think it’s a great tradition,” he said.
Tony Buccheri of Omaha said he loves the tradition and would like to see it continue. But he said he wouldn’t be opposed to the university finding another way to celebrate scoring drives that wouldn’t raise possible environmental concerns.
“The environment needs to be protected and respected,” he said.
Balloon releases have stirred controversy nationally.
This year, college football powerhouse Clemson University is ending its tradition of releasing 10,000 balloons into the air before games, a move that’s part of its sustainability efforts.
Releasing balloons has long bothered environmentalists, who say the pieces that fall back to earth can be deadly to seabirds and turtles that eat them. So as companies vow to banish plastic straws, there are signs that balloons will be among the products to get more scrutiny.
Emma Tonge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said people might not realize balloons are a problem, she says, because of their “light and whimsical” image.
Balloons are not among the top 10 kinds of debris found in coastal cleanups, but Tonge says they’re common and especially hazardous to marine animals, which can also get tangled in balloon strings.
Already, a few states restrict balloon releases to some extent, according to the Balloon Council, which represents the industry and advocates for the responsible handling of its products to “uphold the integrity of the professional balloon community.” That means never releasing them into the air, and ensuring the strings have a weight tied to them so the balloons don’t accidentally float away.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.