Latex balloons are produced from the white juice from the rubber trees and are is hereby 100% biodegradable. They will decompose as quickly as an oak leaf under identical conditions. The white sap is extracted from the Haevae Brasilienis tree and collected in liquid form, which is then referred to as latex.
The latex is collected without harming the tree using environmentally safe methods, because 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 of the balloons starts immediately when they 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/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 approximately the same as an oakleaf under the similar environmental conditions.
The life of the latex balloons starts in 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 part of the conveyor belt, the molds dip into the latex and emerge with a thin coating of rubber. As the series of molds moves through the air, the latex dries and cures. Another machine rolls the 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. The balloons are now ready for packing.
After opening a package of these balloons, a user can either inflate a balloon by blowing air into it with a balloonpump, or by attaching it to a special canister filled with compressed air or helium. It will 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 multiple times their original size, but over-inflation often leads to an explosive burst.
Balloons have been used for many centuries, originally jesters and other court entertainers, used animal bladders and entrails to inflate and made shapes of them.
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.
Hydrogen was originally used by Faraday to inflate balloons. Hydrogen brought a lot of play and joy to the balloon world, but it also brought an equal or even greater amount of danger. As hydrogen can easily explodes and can catch fire, it 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.
Latex balloons, as we know them today were first manufactured by J.G. Ingram of London in 1847.
They say that The Toy Balloon Company of New York in the 1920’s was the first with having a big balloon promotion. They released 50,000 helium filled balloons at the same time, each being printed with an advertiser’s name and had a tag which offered a prize to the finder.
PRODUCTION LATEX BALLOONS
Latex rubber balloons are made from the white juice from the rubber tree, Hevea Brasiliensis. This concentrate (Latex) contains about 60% weight of the natural rubber to which small quantities of chemicals and non-toxic color pigments are added. Being essentially a natural vegetable product, latex balloons are completely biodegradeable. (check Biodegradebility for more information)
The manufacturing process to obtain the latex rubber balloons can be broken down into four major steps.
1. Latex compound preparation
3. Leaching and drying
4. Stripping finished balloons
1.LATEX COMPOUND PREPARATION
The concentrated latex is not only the main ingredient for manufacturing of balloons, but many other products are made from this same material. Think of surgical gloves, bicycle tires and pacifiers.
To strengthen the rubber (which at this point is an entangled bunch of string-like chains of rubber and which has no physical strength when stretched) chemicals, including sulphur and accelerators, are added to crosslink. Crosslink (pre-vulcanisation) is when the strings of rubber polymer 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. By having his strict regime it ensures them that the right 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 multiple reasons the basic vulcanising systems are limited to a few standard formulations. This PV latex is convenient for manufacturing operations that aren’t able/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. Before proceeding to the dipping point, color pigments and modifiers (to obtain pastel, crystal pearl or metallic finishes) are added.
Balloon shaped formers, in different shapes and sizes, 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 will dry. The former is then dipped into the latex compound and the coagulant which 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 latex will then dry very quickly around the mold, after which a brush will go around the edges of the balloon. This will cause the end of the balloon to curl up and give the balloon the familiar end (bead/rim).
3.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 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 are passed into the drying chambers, where the rubber is dried and the vulcanisation of the rubber is finished off at the correct drying temperatures.
The dry latex rubber balloons are then removed from the formers by stripping them. This process can be performed either manually or mechanically, using water or compressed air. After stripping the balloons they are examined for any defects and the 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.
The tropical rubber plant, Hevea Brasiliensis has, like many other plant species, evolved sophisticated defense mechanisms to protect itself from injury and diseases. 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 diseases.
The proteins found in natural latex, might in rare cases lead to an allergy to persons with cumulative latex exposure. 40% of the people with an latex allergy has also developed an allergy for fruits like bananas, avocados, kiwi or chestnuts. This is called the latex-fruit syndrome.
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 an anaphylactic shock.
The awareness of these allergies 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 are in contact with many rubber products; latex gloves, catheters, bandages, rubber toys, carpets, shoe soles, sports equipment, clothing and many other products where a high elasticity and/or softness are most important requiring.
People with a latex allergy should try to avoid contact with rubber products as much 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.