All the recent talk about bans on plastic straws has led to differing reactions on the left and right. Many progressives favor such a ban, drawing attention to the mountains of plastic garbage forming massive islands in the middle of the world’s oceans. The response from many on the right has been, shall we say, a bit less charitable. The discussion has led to quite a few memes along the lines of this.

Cutting back on disposable plastic which winds up in the ocean is actually an idea I support in general terms, though straws don’t appear to be a significant percentage of the problem. But if you agree to ban straws, what comes next? The answer wasn’t long in coming. How about party balloons? (Time)

Now that plastic straws may be headed for extinction, could Americans’ love of balloons be deflated?

The joyous celebration of releasing balloons into the air has long bothered environmentalists, who say the pieces that fall back to earth can be deadly to seabirds and turtles that eat them. So as companies vow to banish plastic straws, there are signs balloons will be among the products to get more scrutiny, even though they’re a very small part of environmental pollution.

This year, college football powerhouse Clemson University is ending its tradition of releasing 10,000 balloons into the air before games, a move that’s part of its sustainability efforts. In Virginia, a campaign that urges alternatives to balloon releases at weddings is expanding. And a town in Rhode Island outright banned the sale of all balloons earlier this year, citing the harm to marine life.

The authors of the article are quick to note that balloons don’t show up in the ten most common types of plastic waste which ends up in the ocean. They’re not even close. But there have been some reports of marine life eating them after possibly mistaking them for jellyfish and developing medical problems. So does this mean we should be looking at banning balloons entirely? The ones filled with helium tend to get away from us rather frequently and are never seen again (and depending on where you live might certainly make it to the ocean). But the ones filled with air don’t tend to go too far. They’re more often popped and swept up in the trash. The problem is that they’re still in the trash and they don’t break down in a landfill for millennia.

As near as I can see, we definitely have a long-term problem when it comes to disposal of plastic. I’m not so worried about soda bottles, plastic buckets or any of the larger items which can be readily collected and recycled. I’m really not that worried about balloons. It’s the truly ubiquitous, small plastic stuff that we could invest some time in replacing. Do you ever buy those packages of individually sliced cheese? Each slice is wrapped in a plastic sheath and the whole package is wrapped in another one. And they sell them in the tens of millions. Nearly everything comes wrapping in a thin plastic covering and let’s admit it… nobody is recycling that. It’s all going into the ground or into the water.

Rather than turning this into a left versus right thing, perhaps we can not get carried away with banning things we can recycle or don’t use much of but give some thought to ways manufacturers could replace plastic wrappers. If it can be done in a way that’s not economically crippling we might stave off a long-term problem.