A new show that uses thousands of balloons to create disposable art has been slammed as “irresponsible and wasteful” by experts and Kiwis concerned about the environment.
The new Warner Bros Discovery series Blow Up challenges contestants to create giant inflatable works of art in a bid to be crowned New Zealand’s greatest balloon artist.
A promotional video for the show, which will screen on Three and ThreeNow, shows creations such as a life-size merry-go-round, a dinosaur and an ocean scene with a larger-than-life mermaid.
But the show, hosted by entertainer Jaquie Brown and balloon artist Dave Brenn, has those concerned for the environment fuming - including a professor of science at the University of Canterbury.
Professor Sally Gaw specialises in environmental stressors and contaminants and is currently working on “sustainable development goal number 12″ - centred around responsible consumption.
Gaw said latex balloons were significant polluters and could take years to break down, even when commercially composted.
“The idea of using resources to create things that will be destroyed in a short time frame is really no longer acceptable,” Professor Gaw said.
“Even just the premise of creating a whole lot of waste that then needs to be dealt with for no reason other than entertainment is a problem to start with.”
Gaw said the show was “irresponsible” especially because New Zealanders were being told daily to reduce, reuse and recycle.
“New Zealanders needed to get comfortable with holding others to account,” she said.
“We need to think about the resources and energy that go into creating single-use items that are just going to be thrown away. We need to get comfortable asking society if is this ok.”
Warner Bros Discovery said in a statement to the Herald that it had engaged the services of Eco Balloons, a specialist in guaranteeing zero waste.
“As a result, all balloons used on this show will be composted and broken down to zero waste and no balloons used on Blow Up will end up in landfill.”
Gaw said although latex can be biodegradable, the time it takes to break down is debatable, even in a commercial facility.
Chemicals added for colour and stretchiness can extend the life of a balloon, with research showing it’s expected some balloons can take hundreds of years to fully decompose.
Gaw was also concerned the show would inspire others to try their own balloon creations, creating even more waste.
“Even if Blow Up are doing all they can around responsible disposal that may not be the case with others who copy them.
“Balloons have a knack of getting into the environment and latex smells good to marine life so they eat them.
“If they add glitter to them that’s adding microplastics and the damage is compounded. It’s insane.”
Gaw hoped the show did not use helium in any of the creations.
“Helium is in short supply and is needed for medical and research purposes so to put it in a balloon is wasteful.”
Dorte Wray from Zero Waste Network New Zealand said a show that used existing materials would be more in line with Kiwi values.
“We love to see people creating art. But promoting single-use and plastic is promoting pollution, and that is taking us in the wrong direction,” Wray said.
“Waste pollution is a top concern of New Zealanders in survey after survey.”
A few New Zealanders who had viewed the promotional trailer were amazed at the artist’s skills but others described it as producing “rubbish that is destroying our planet.”
Three responded to online criticism stating: “The balloons used on Blow Up are made from sustainable Rubber Trees, are 100 per cent compostable and disposed of at appropriate composting facilities.”
But those commenting online hit back saying latex balloons took between five and 100 years to decompose, even in commercial facilities, and leached harmful chemicals into the environment.
“Thanks for your response, but I’d love to see all about the composting facilities for these balloons on your show,” one wrote.
“It will be interesting, because all of us should be doing everything we possibly can to avoid, reduce and stop waste.”
Another was shocked at the timing of the show which coincided with numerous states in America banning balloons.
An article in The Guardian stated Laguna Beach has banned the use of balloons in public because of the danger to marine life.
When ingested, latex balloons were 32 times more likely to kill seabirds than hard plastic, making them the deadliest type of marine debris.
“It’s unbelievable that this show has been made in NZ, even states in the US are banning balloons,” one woman wrote on the Three Facebook page.
“I hope, no NZ on Air funding has gone into this.”
The show originated first in the Netherlands and has been picked up throughout Europe and Australia. It did not receive any NZ on Air funding.
It was picked up by Warner Bros Discovery NZ late last year and will screen on Three and ThreeNow in the coming weeks.