Hot air balloons in the maritime environment


Marine litter is a growing problem. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive is an important legal framework for tackling marine litter. In 2012, balloon residue has been the sixth most commonly found litter on the beach. Balloon residues are pieces of latex balloon or balloon film with, ribbons, valves, and even led lights. This practices provides more information on balloon residues as marine litter.

Application in MSP: 
Unknown effect
Nature protection
Scientific Research
Type of Issue: 
Environment aspects
Land-sea interactions
Type of practice: 
Cross-border / trans-national aspect: 
Coherence with other processes: 
Habitats and Birds Directive
Integrated Coastal Zone Management
Marine Strategy Framework Directive
Water Framework Directive

Questions this practice may help answer

  • What is the influence of balloons on the amount of marine litter?
  • What are the consequences of balloon residues in the sea for nature, environment and economy?

Implementation Context

The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment recognises the necisity to deal with balloons as a source of marine litter. In the action programme of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive balloon remains have a specical point of attention. The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment has requested more information about this issue. This practice will form a knowledge base for future research.

Aspects / Objectives

  • Provide an overview of the number of balloons used since 2002 that ended up in the environment.
  • A description of the behaviour of a balloon in the marine environment.
    • Will it break apart?
    • What is known about the breakdown of the residue in seawater (time, temperature etc)?
  • What is the damage of the balloon residues for nature and the environment as well for the economy?


  • Desk research has been executed on the backgrounds of balloons as marine litter.
  • Organisations involved have been interviewed to get more detailed information.

Main Outputs / Results

Main findings have been:

  • In 2012, a yearly average of 12,7 balloon residues has been found on every 100 meter of beach. In 2002, this was an average of 8. This means an increase of 35%.
  • In the sea in an area of 130m by 400km, about 350 balloon residues have been counted yearly.
  • 1 to 2% of sea birds has latex residue in their stomach.
  • 13% of the balloons burst in the atmosphere, 87% comes down in one shape.
  • 5% to 30% of the balloons in The Netherlands will end up in the sea.
  • It takes a long time for the latex to get cracked and more time to resolve it completely.
  • There is no data available of the amount of animals dying from balloons. There is evidence however that his occurs.
  • About 3% of the beach litter consist of balloon residues.

The researchers point at that there is more research necessary on the total breakdown time of the balloon residues, more on the amount of balloon residues and more on the behaviour of a balloon.


This practices provides a limited overview of the negative consequences of balloons as marine litter in the Netherlands. However, it can be seen as a starting point for other research. Researchers from other countries can use the literature collected in this practices to start their own research in different areas.

Costs / Funding Source

Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment

Responsible Entity

Lichte Bries BV

Sjoerd Kaarsemaker