Earth Files

What will Manila Okada do with the 130,000 undropped balloons?

Okada Manila’s Balloon Drop poster

It was a public relations event that became a PR crisis as the threat of an environment disaster loomed.

For its New Year attraction, Okada Manila thought of dropping 130,000 balloons and invited guests to be part of “making history” by witnessing the “largest balloon drop” that will put the Philippines in the Guinness Book of World Records.

It was to be held at the luxury resort hotel’s indoor beach club, Cove Manila, to welcome the year 2019.

Environment activists protested and warned of the great harm the activity would do to the environment. An online campaign was launched by Climate Reality Project Philippines, joined by Greenpeace Southeast Asia – Philippines, Ecowaste Coalition, and Save Philippine Seas and in few days generated 63,000 signatories.

“The plan to set a Guinness World Record for the world’s largest balloon drop is an event and a record nobody wants to have nor asked for. As a Filipino, there is nothing to be proud of from this so-called ‘biggest balloon drop’ event. Since Friday night, social media is burning with the posts and comments of angry netizens asking Cove Manila to halt this inexcusable environmental transgression disguised as a party,” the petition said.

Balloon festivals have been known to create serious problems. In 1986 in Cleveland, Ohio, a fundraising balloon stunt caused problems when helium-filled latex balloons drifted back to the city because of an incoming storm.

News reports on the calamitous event said Balloon fest ‘86 released almost one and a half million balloons in an attempt to also break a Guinness Book World of Record. It impeded air traffic and the search by United States Coast Guard for two missing boaters that later washed ashore. The Guinness did not recognize the attempt and as a consequence, the organizers and the city faced lawsuits which cost millions of dollars in damages.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources paid attention to the environment activists’ petition and “urged” Okada Manila to “cancel the drop activity.”

In a statement, the DENR-Biodiversity Management Bureau commended the efforts of the citizens in calling the attention of the organizers to cancel this environment-threatening activity. “Biodegradable balloons, although made of natural latex, may take six months to four years or more to decompose naturally, depending on the amount and on the ability of microorganisms to breakdown large quantities. These are still harmful if ingested by wildlife and still contribute to waste, despite the observance of proper disposal guidelines.”

It also took a swipe at Okada Manila for its mention of having worked with the DENR on a weekend cleaning up the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area.

DENR-BMB said, “The regular Coastal Cleanup which Okada Manila had participated in partnership with the Department not only aims to reduce litter and debris in the area but to spread the call of ending the flow of trash at the source. “

“With this balloon drop event, it was made clear to us that Okada Manila did not actually grasp the rationale of the cleanup activity,” the environment agency said.

DENR-BMB also said “The attempt of setting a World Record is futile as environmentally-impactful records such as the above-mentioned are no longer being monitored by the Guinness World Records.”

Okada Manila, while insisting that its New Year balloon activity will have “no negative environmental impact” announced Dec. 30 that it has decided to “voluntarily cancel the Balloon Drop event as a sign of respect to the DENR’s recommendation and in support of the Government’s campaign to protect and save the environment.”

Angelina Pago of Greenpeace has a question: “Although we’re happy that the event did not push through, what will they do with the purchased balloons?”

This story is produced by VERA Files under a project supported by the Internews’ Earth Journalism Network, which aims to empower journalists from developing countries to cover the environment more effectively.)