POINT: Getting rid of the release of soccer balls, an important first step | Opinion

Tradition means many things to many different people. For some, their family traditions are elaborate and complicated affairs, with flights across the country and renting lakeside homes. For others, a tradition may be as simple as getting takeout every Thursday.

For Nebraska Huskers fans, it’s been a tradition to launch about 5,000 red helium balloons at every home football game for about 80 years now. Previously, the biggest threat to balloon release was a helium shortage in 2012, which resulted in around 3,000 fewer balloons in just a few games.

But in recent years, students, staff and the UNL community have banded together to voice their opposition to the tradition. While some still argue that the community value of the practice of releasing about 1,250 cubic feet of helium into 5,000 red latex balloons outweighs the environmental costs, I’m not one of them.

There are environmental consequences that flow directly from the release of the Husker balloon. The most commonly cited occurrence is people finding balloons with the Nebraska logo in places as far apart as Michigan and New York. The university says these balloons are “biodegradable latex”, which proponents often explain breaks down at the same rate as an oak leaf, taking several years. A group of anti-balloon activists have been documenting balloon decomposition since 2011 and found the balloon was still partially intact 5 years after they found it.

And the helium shortage of 2012, which threatened balloon tradition, isn’t just a thing of the past. Helium demand has surged and gas suppliers are struggling to meet demand amid supply chain shortages and COVID-19 related lockdowns. This doesn’t just mean less air in the balloons – helium is regularly used in medical treatment, hospital machinery and other technology.

Of course, Husker balloons aren’t the only cause of the helium shortage. But when you release 5,000 balloons seven times a year, that’s about 8,750 cubic feet of helium. That’s enough helium to lift about 603 pounds, or an adult male grizzly bear. 8,750 cubic feet that could be used to treat asthma or cool jet engines.

Still, for some, this latex waste and helium woes aren’t reason enough to shed a long-standing tradition. Some may even argue that getting rid of dropping balls is a “virtuous signal” when we could focus on issues like the plastic bottles sold at Husker football games that will probably never break down. They are not wrong. In a way, it’s a sign of virtue. But getting rid of plastic water bottles would also be a sign of virtue.

We absolutely need to focus on phasing out single-use plastics. But that doesn’t mean we can stick with other environmentally harmful traditions just because they have more sentimental value to us. Instead of releasing 5,000 balloons after the first touchdown, some offered alternatives such as waving red rally towels, which didn’t generate much excitement. For any Husker home game, you can download the Husker Lights app which syncs your phone with the light shows throughout the game. Plus, whether our next tradition includes towels or lights, it won’t be as distracting when our first touchdown is reversed and there are still balloons floating around the stadium.

I understand that releasing balloons is sentimental. That’s been going on for a long time. But just because we’ve been doing something for a long time doesn’t mean the reviews should be ignored. In fact, it’s a reason to re-evaluate all of our customs, from plastic water bottles to helium-filled latex balloons.

The university has shown incredible adaptability in regards to COVID-19, changing protocols and practices to keep UNL students safe. To ensure the safety of students, their future families and the environment, the university should get rid of the tradition of balloon releases.

Sydney Miller is a senior psychology student. Contact them at sydneymiller@dailynebraskan.com.