The helium shortage clearly impacts balloons and the party business. According to NBC News:
Party City had been closing 10 to 15 stores, on average, in recent years, but with the future of helium uncertain, those numbers have climbed to nearly 5 percent of all of the chain’s locations.
But beyond birthday parties, the helium shortage also impacts hospitals. Helium is used in superconducting magnets found in devices such as MRI machines.
It's not just kids' birthday parties at risk from the helium shortage — the lighter-than-air, nonrenewable natural resource has many more crucial applications, from smartphones to MRIs to space shuttles and the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator.
We should stop using balloons in order to conserve helium for its more important applications.
But you can't replace the special kind of joy that comes from balloons. Whether it's a surprise party, a stroll through Disney World or a visit to a sick friend, balloons make everything better.
Helium shortage aside, balloons themselves are bad for the environment. Those balloons you let slip into the sky do not float forever into space; they return to earth as litter. According to Balloons Blow, a nonprofit dedicated to educating the public on the destructive nature of balloons:
While some balloons burst, others just gradually deflate. But they all fall back down to Earth where they can wreak havoc on wildlife on land, sea, and air.
Even Clemson University ended an over 30-year tradition of releasing thousands of orange balloons before football games due to concerns regarding environmental impact. Tiger Net reports:
...environmental groups have said that the balloon launch is a danger to the environment, including loggerhead turtles on the South Carolina coastline.
But balloons have brought joy to both the young and the old for over 100 years. According to Slate:
Rubber balloons weren’t manufactured in the United States until 1907, but their popularity appears to have increased throughout most of the 20th century...Americans began twisting balloons to make animals in the late-1930s or early-1940s. Another boom in recreational balloon use occurred with the introduction of foil balloons in the 1970s. Foil balloons hold their shape better than rubber balloons, and so they were better for conveying messages like “Happy birthday!” or “It’s a boy!”