The Balloon Council, a pro-balloon lobbying organization, makes the following claims on its website:

A latex balloon is made from 100 percent organic material and is 100 percent biodegradable. Stress caused by inflation starts this decomposition cycle. Exposure to sunlight accelerates the process – oxygen and ozone continue the molecular attack, even in the dark. Deterioration is clearly evident within a few hours – it begins to oxidize or "frost"—and soon the balloon will break apart. Research has shown that under similar conditions latex decomposes at the same rate as an oak leaf.

So essentially, I question whether or not latex balloons are biodegradable and to what extent (how, for example, do they compare to oak leaves)?

Latex balloons are made of natural rubber (cis-1,4-polyisoprene), which according to the Polymer Properties Database is "fully biodegradable." I have not found any other sources for comparing its biodegradability to that of an oak leaf. However, the claim that it biodegrades at the same rate as an oak leaf may be misleading even if true since latex balloons are significantly thicker to begin with than oak leaves. Also, just being biodegradable doesn't guarantee that they're environmentally friendly.

I have emailed the Balloon Council requesting a citation and clarification on their claim about the rate of biodegradation and will edit this post if and when I receive an answer. Don't hold your breath.

  • I would say (from my personal observation) that after rubber (which might or might not be natural latex) have been blown up and deflated, the result is quite a bit thinner than a typical oak leaf. – jamesqf Dec 1 '16 at 4:46
  • This answer is lacking some research on literature regarding degradation time. The claim that comparing thickness of radically different materials can lead to some conclusion is misleading. – Mindwin Dec 1 '16 at 12:15
  • do keep in mind that many things sold as latex balloons aren't. Replacing natural latex with artificial substitutes with similar properties happens. Doesn't mean those don't degrade in the same way of course, would depend wholely on what materials were used. – jwenting Dec 6 '16 at 9:33

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