We all know that balloons are made from single-use, synthetic materials that often end up as litter in oceans, but did you know that those shiny, floating globes are filled with a scarce, precious resource that the medical and scientific community depend on? Helium is a non-renewable resource and we're in the midst of a shortage. What’s really interesting, helium is the second most abundant element in the universe next to hydrogen, so why is there a shortage?
Even though helium is so abundant in the universe, on Earth it is relatively rare and extracted as a byproduct from natural gas. According to Phil Kornbluth, a helium consultant with over 30 years of experience, “97% of the world’s helium is produced as a 'waste product,' collected while processing natural gas or producing liquefied natural gas.” This is an expensive process and there are only 14 plants in the world across six countries that refine helium. Although most people associate party balloons and funny, squeaky voices with helium, what many don't know is that “all kinds of scientific breakthroughs, from the discovery of the Higgs boson to the creation of new pharmaceutical materials, are dependent on helium.” According to Sophia Hayes, a professor of chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis and one of the nation’s leading helium experts, “helium is the workhorse of chemistry. Because of a helium shortage, some important experiments are being forced to shut down.” She explains that helium is the coldest substance in the world and it is crucial to many medical and scientific processes including operating MRI scanners, separating fuels in NASA rockets, and filling air tanks for deep-sea divers.
Some eco-friendly alternatives to helium balloons
So why are we wasting this finite element on party decorations? Shouldn’t the medical and scientific communities take priority over some sparkly embellishments? Instead of wasting this precious resource, get creative with your decorations and go a more sustainable route!
Tissue paper pompoms
Floating flowers and flower arrangements
Banners, streamers, and kites
In this case, the eco-friendly choice isn't just sustainable for the planet but also for our way of life and the technology and breakthroughs we depend on!
Photo credits: Helium balloons: Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash Colored lights: Photo by Sweet Ice Cream Photography on Unsplash Confetti: Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash Bunting: Photo by Ben Rosett on Unsplash Streamers: Photo by Mitchell Lawler on Unsplash Piñata: Photo by Hello I'm Nik on Unsplash Happy birthday: Photo by Hedi Alija on Unsplash Party streamers: Image by 5598375 from Pixabay