About Balloons

BIODEGRADEBILITY

Latex balloons are 100% biodegradable, they will decompose as quickly as an oak leaf in identical conditions.

Latex Balloons are produced from the latex of the rubber trees. The white sap is extracted from the Haevae Brasilienis tree and collected in liquid form, which is then referred to as latex.

It is collected without harming the tree using environmentally safe methods.  A rubber tree can produce latex for up to 40 years.  Since rubber trees consume Carbon Dioxide and give off Oxygen these trees help play a role in the ecological balance of the earth.  

Latex balloons are made with 100% natural rubber enabling the balloons to biodegrade completely.  The degradation process begins immediately the balloons are inflated and this is accelerated once the balloons is exposed to light.  The first signs of the process is visible after one hour when the balloon takes on an opaque or milky look, known as oxidation. The length of the degradation process depends on the exposure to UV light, but according to scientific research the length of this process is approximate the same as a leaf from an oak tree under similar environmental conditions.

Latex balloons begin life as special metal molds and a vat of liquefied latex rubber. The bulb-shaped molds are lined up in single file along a conveyor belt system. At the lowest end of the conveyor belt, the molds dip into the vat of latex and emerge with a thin coating of rubber. As the series of molds moves through the air, the latex dries and cures. A machine rolls one end of the balloon just before a controlled puff of air blows it off the mold. This rolled end allows users to inflate the balloon more easily.

After opening a package of these balloons, a user can either inflate an individual balloon by blowing air into it with a balloonpump, or by attaching it to a special canister filled with compressed air or helium. It may be helpful to stretch the uninflated balloon several times in order to reduce the amount of pressure necessary to blow it up. Latex balloons can be inflated to many times their original size, but over-inflation often leads to an explosive burst.

BALLOON HISTORY

Balloons have been used for many centuries, originally jesters and other court entertainers, to inflate and make shapes, used animal bladders and entrails.

According to the ‘Book of Firsts’ by Patrick Robertson, Bramhall House, NY, 1978:
Professor Michael Faraday made the first rubber balloons in 1824 for use in his experiments with hydrogen at the Royal Institution in London

Latex balloons, as we know them today were first manufactured by J.G. Ingram of London in 1847.
Hydrogen was originally used by Faraday to inflate balloons.  Hydrogen brought play and joy to the balloon world, but it also brought an equal or greater amount of danger.  Hydrogen easily explodes and catches fire.  Hydrogen was eventually replaced by helium, a non-flammable gas.  Although hydrogen had one-tenth more lifting power, helium was much safer making it possible for balloons to have a variety of uses.
It is said that The Toy Balloon Company of New York in the 1920’s released 50,000 helium filled balloons at one time, each being printed with an advertiser’s name and bore a tag which offered a prize to the finder.  

 

BALLOON PRODUCTION

Latex rubber balloons are made from the concentrated sap from the rubber tree, Hevea Brasiliensis. This concentrate contains about 60% by weight of the natural rubber to which small quantities of chemicals and non-toxic colour pigments are added. Being essentially a natural vegetable product, latex balloons are completely biodegradeable.
 
The manufacturing process to obtain the latex rubber balloons can be broken down into four major steps.
- Latex compound preparation
- Dipping
- Leaching and drying
- Stripping finished balloons
 
Latex compound preparation
The concentrated rubber latex not only is the principle ingredient for manufacture of balloons, but many other products are made from this same raw material.
 
To strengthen the rubber, which at this point is an entangled bunch of string-like chains of the rubber polymer and which has virtually no physical strength when stretched, chemicals, including sulphur and accelerators, are added to partially vulcanise, that is crosslink, the strings of rubber polymer to join them up into a strong elastic material. This pre-vulcanisation takes place prior to the next step.
 
Manufacturers of high quality balloons, prepare the pre-vulcanised latex ‘in-house’ under strict, technologically controlled conditions and have developed special compound formulations to suit the balloon characteristics required. This strict regimen ensures that quality is maintained from raw material up to the finished product.
 
Natural rubber latex can also be supplied by the producers of latex concentrate in this pre-vulcanised form, but for obvious reasons the basic vulcanising systems are limited to a few standard formulations. This PV latex is convenient for manufacturing operations not able or willing to install latex compounding sections and which manufacture a wide range of latex based products, balloons included, for the mass market.
 
When the prevulcanised latex has reached the required characteristics, it is ready for the dipping process, but before proceeding to the dipping point, colour pigments and modifiers to obtain pastel, crystal pearl or metallic finishes are added.
 
Dipping
Balloon shaped formers, in shape and size of the non-inflated balloons required, are used to produce the balloons. Different shaped formers are used depending upon the quality of balloons to be produced. Mass-market products are usually produced on flat-sided formers, while most decorator balloons are produced on rounded formers.
 
The formers, usually made from aluminium, plastics or ceramic, are first dipped into a coagulant solution, which is allowed to dry. The former is then dipped into the latex compound and the coagulant causes a wet gel of rubber to be deposited on the former. 
Depending upon the production process, the former may be dipped a second time into a finishing latex compound.
The bead (rim) of each balloon is made as formers, supporting the rubber gel, are passed between two brush rollers turning in opposite directions.
Leaching and drying process.
Once the gel has set firmly on the formers these are passed into leaching tanks, where the water extracts unwanted chemical residues and proteins, which occur naturally in the natural rubber latex. The time spent on and the conditions of leaching the wet balloons determine the quality of the finished balloons in respect of health and safety regulations  and standards.
After leaching the formers pass into the drying chambers, where the rubber is dried and the vulcanisation of the rubber is finished off at the drying temperatures.
 
Balloon stripping
The dry latex rubber balloons are then removed from the formers by stripping. This process can be performed either manually or mechanically, using water or compressed air.
 
After stripping the balloons are examined for any defects and selected samples are tested against established standards.
 
Storage of finished balloons.
Good quality balloons will have a long shelf-life, providing they are not exposed to direct sunlight and extreme temperatures are avoided.

 

LATEX ALLERGY

The tropical rubber plant, Hevea Brasiliensis, like many other plant species, has evolved sophisticated defense mechanisms to protect itself from injury and disease.
Through the synthesis of sticky proteins, Hevea Brasiliensis is able to repair wounds and inhibit the growth of micro-organisms who are able to cause disease.
 
The proteins found in natural latex, might in rare cases lead to an allergy in persons with cumulative latex exposure. Allergic reactions can also be caused by fruits like bananas, avocados, kiwi or chestnuts.
 
Direct skin contact with latex might cause a type I allergy, resulting in an immediate hypersensitivity. A type IV allergy or delayed type sensitivity is caused by chemicals in the latex product. This hypersensitivity can range from a more common irritation of the skin, to in extremely rare cases one of anaphylactic shock.
 
The awareness of allergies in general has increased because of the escalating use of rubber gloves and condoms, in the first place enforced by the illness AIDS. Also fruit like kiwi and avocado have been increasingly becoming more available in our fruit shops since a decade ago. Natural latex has been used for more than 100 years. The first hypersensitivity case to latex was reported in 1979 and since then more cases have been reported, because of the massive increased use of rubber products. In 1987, 1 billion latex gloves were imported into the United States. In 1988, 8 billion gloves were imported. In our daily lives we come into contact with many rubber products; in the healthcare sector with latex gloves, catheters, bandages and much more, with rubber toys and in the household with carpets, shoe soles, sports equipment, clothing, seats and many other products where a high elasticity and/or softness are most important requiring the addition of latex in their manufacture.
 
Latex sensitive persons once aware of their problem should try to avoid contact with rubber products as possible in their daily lives.
 
Finally, as well as the awareness of sensitivity to proteins from natural latex, it is good to know that proteins are water soluble and therefore ‘washing’ can reduce the proteins in products made of natural latex.