UNL Students Interested in Moving on From Balloons

Feb. 14, 2020, 9:15 a.m. ·


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Some University of Nebraska-Lincoln students want to put an end to the traditional balloon release during Husker football games.

Earlier this week, students a part of Sustain UNL, a campus organization centered around environmental activism, gathered to hear from a panel comprised of student government, a conservation biologist and a representative from the Chancellor's office about the balloon releases.

All the panelists are interested in finding a new tradition to replace the balloons.

Dennis Ferraro, a conservation biologist in UNL's School of Natural Resources, couldn’t provide any specific data, or research, about the effects of latex balloons on the environment. But, he said he has data to show balloons are health hazards for children.

“43 percent of the fatalities on children under three from choking are from balloons, Ferraro said citing a Journal of American Medical Association study from November 1990. "And some of those balloons are by children picking them up in the yard that fell in the yard.”

Latex can take between three to four years to break down, according to popular research, which Ferraro and Sustain UNL said makes the balloons bad for the environment.

Mike Zeleny, from the Chancellor’s office, said he would like to see a grassroots alternative from the students. Many ideas were thrown out: cornstarch balloons, balloons that come back down, rally towels, shooting runzas into the crowd and more.

Regardless of what students want, it’s not their call to make. It’s a joint decision between the Athletic department and the University, said Keith Mann, associate athletic director of communications.

In March 2019, student government polled UNL students and found just over half of them supported keeping the balloon tradition. Only 16 percent of students were polled.

“If you get a sizeable representative amount of the students to vote," Emily Johnson, student body president, said, "like if we get 20 percent voter turnout, of course, there’s some pressure on administration to look at that and listen to the student voice, especially if the vote is very extreme one way or the other.”

A Sustain UNL petition will put the question of ending the balloon release started in the 1940s on the student ballot again come March 11.