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One of the biggest national parks in Gauteng in South Africa has decided to ban balloons.

The Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens, a popular spot for functions, picnics, and concerts, no longer allows plastic balloons into its premises. The ban came into effect at the beginning of April.

The park has grasslands, woodlands, and bushveld. It’s also home to various species of birds, reptiles, and butterflies, as well as frogs and mammals including bucks, hedgehogs, jackals, caracal (medium-sized wild cats), and dassies (rock badgers).

Xolelwa Mokoena, the garden curator, told the Roodepoort Northsider that she made the decision to protect wildlife and natural habitat.

“Firstly, people bring balloons into the garden but don’t take them back on the way out when they leave,” she said. “Secondly, the small fragments are not biodegradable and thus pose a threat to the birds and animals in the garden as they mistake the colourful bits for food.”

Plastic balloons can turn into microplastics, which are particles of plastic that are less than 5 millmetres in size.

Microplastics are non-biodegradable and there is no getting rid of them once produced. Animals often mistake them for food, which harms their digestive systems.

Mokoena says the decision to the decision to ban all balloons, even biodegradable ones, is that the strings and plastic sticks the balloons are attached to also pose an environmental risk.

Much like the rest of Africa, and the world, South Africa is battling with plastic pollution. The country is one of the top 20 producers of marine plastic pollution in the world.

In Gauteng, plastic pollution — particularly from microplastics — has started spiralling out of control.

A study commissioned by Water Research Commission in 2018 found microplastics in the drinking water in Johannesburg and Tshwane, and in rivers in Gauteng and in borehole water in the North West province.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has warned that microplastics are becoming a growing threat to human health, even though their full impact is yet to be determined.


Defend the Planet

Bye Bye, Balloons: Why This South African Park Banned Them

By Lerato Mogoatlhe