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Eco-friendly alternatives to balloon releases

A memorial service is a great way to honour a loved one – bringing everyone together for a joint act of remembrance, and to celebrate their life.

In recent years, memorial balloon releases have become more popular. But while releasing hundreds of balloons in their memory may seem like a wonderful idea, it’s not so good for the planet.

Campaigners including the RSPCA say balloons can harm wildlife and leave hazardous materials, such as plastic, in the environment for years to come.

But you don’t have to abandon your plans for an outdoor memorial. There are plenty of alternative balloon releases that will still give you that feeling of ‘letting go’ without the same impact on the eco-system.

Why are balloons bad for the environment?

Balloon releases are essentially littering, and litter is bad for animals and their surroundings. Your pets can chew – and choke – on balloons at home, while animals in the wild may confuse balloons for food and swallow them. The rubber or foil can then block their digestive system (as plastic bags can), which could be fatal.

Balloons and their ribbons or strings can also get caught on trees, bushes and telephone cables. Birds and smaller animals may then get tangled in them and be unable to escape. If the balloons are weighted with plastic tags, they can come down in the sea, harming marine life, or on farmland where they could be eaten by animals in our food chain.

Even if you buy environmentally friendly balloons – often made of latex – these can take years to break down. Balloons made of plastic, rubber or foil will also break down, but their particles can remain in the environment for decades. Luckily, there are plenty of alternative ‘releases’ you can choose.

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Green alternatives to memorial balloon releases

Blowing bubbles Blowing thousands of bubbles into the air can look incredible and, just like memorial balloons, there’s a sensation of releasing your feelings. Why not invite friends and family members to take part in a memorial service, and choose bubbles of different sizes to create a real spectacle?

Many shops sell bubble wands and bubble machines, or you can make your own with pipe cleaners. Just make sure you dispose of any plastic safely afterwards, and use eco-friendly soap or washing-up liquid to create the bubbles.

Wildflower seed bombs Seed bombs are small balls made from a mixture of wildflower seeds, compost and clay. When you scatter them over grass or flowerbeds, they break down and release the seeds in a more random pattern. They’re also an excellent alternative to balloon releases – not only do you get to ‘release’ something, they’re good for the environment.

You can either buy wildflower seed bombs or make your own. When they’re ready, invite people to scatter them over a patch in your garden or in an existing wildflower meadow (check if you need permission first). When the flowers grow, you’ll have a beautiful memorial to your loved one and will be encouraging bees, butterflies and other insects too.

Petals or paper boats You don’t have to release something into the air; rivers, streams or the sea are great alternatives. Why not scatter rose petals into the water, with the intention of letting go of your emotions? Or gather friends and family together, write messages to your loved one on biodegradable paper, then fold them into boats and set them to sail.

If you’re looking for an alternative way to scatter a loved one’s ashes, you can use a water journey urn. The ashes are contained in an urn made of biodegradable mulberry paper, which will float briefly before sinking to the bottom, where it will naturally break down.

Planting trees or flowers If you’d rather have a more permanent memorial to your loved one, you could create a remembrance spot in your garden. Plant their favourite tree or shrub, or another significant plant, and enjoy their memory all year round.

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More eco alternatives

Releasing something isn’t the only memorial activity you can do as a group. You could invite friends and family on a memory walk to your loved one’s favourite beauty spot, write messages on pebbles and leave them on a beach, or ask everyone to donate to their chosen charity.

When it comes to ways to remember someone special, there are plenty of green alternatives to releasing memorial balloons. Whether you want to gather everyone together or do something in private, you can honour both them and the environment.

• See more ideas on ways to create a personalised funeral or memorial service