The Malta Independent 18 January 2019, Friday

It's time to call a spade a spade

Camilla Appelgren Tuesday, 15 May 2018, 09:14 Last update: about 9 months ago

I walk towards the square with 30 balloons in my pocket. When I reach the center of the square I throw them up in the air. Seconds later all the balloons land on the ground and people around me stare at me, angrily. A police officer quickly approaches me and informs me that it is forbidden by Maltese law to litter. He starts writing up a ticket. I quickly inflate all 30 balloons with helium and let them disappear up in the air. Suddenly the people around me smile and everyone seems ok with the sudden change of scenario. Because now the balloons are 'gone’ and I mean, what's the issue? It was just 30 balloons? They just go up, right?


No. I didn't do this. I could never have done it because both scenarios are problematic.

But in reality, for many people the indifference isn't obvious. Throwing something to the ground is rarely accepted in the society, but releasing it up in the air strangely is.

I have been thinking about this for quite some time and I have had a hard time understanding the background of why people think the way they do in this case. You might think that only stupid people litter, like I wrote about in my last column. Now I am starting to realise that not all people know what littering even means.

I can tell you this: the ones I have had arguments with when it comes to balloon releases aren't stupid. They are educated people and you would be as surprised as I was when hearing them denying the issue of what they do for a living. They should know better.

So, why do people not consider it as littering? The human mind is always balancing between effort and result and this is done since we are kids.

A child that has to clean up the bedroom will sometimes try to hide the toys under the bed and pretend that all is ok. Because the toys won't show, it takes minimum effort and leaves more time to have fun. It might seem like a smart idea until a parent discovers the act and reality catches up with the child.

The same happens with balloon releases. People simply don't see it as an issue for them. The balloons are out of mind, out of sight and it looks nice. We simply sweep the issue under the carpet and pretend it doesn't exist. Then we realise, just like the child does, that the balloons actually will be discovered at one point. Because what goes up, must come down. Balloons will most likely land at sea and once at sea they kill marine life. It all gets back to us in one way or another.

Maltese law isn't very clear when it comes to balloon releases and I have communicated this through the proper channels. It might seem like a small issue, but with thousands of balloons released in Malta yearly it becomes a big issue directly for us Maltese and indirectly for the world.

The ability to see the full picture of several linked events, seems to be lacking in parts of the society. By informing the people and empower them, we can fix this. The mindset that our actions don't matter is wrong. Our actions do matter, a whole lot.


The key to a successful society is that we all understand this basic thing. Whenever you have an opinion, speak up. Always do good and do what you believe in, no matter what others do and say.

No one is perfect, we all feel powerless at times, including me. However, when I have the moments of powerlessness I turn to social media and start scrolling through the clean up groups and get totally recharged with energy. The members all over the world show me, over and over again, that it just takes one person to start a ripple effect impossible to stop. One person and persistence.

There can be five thousand people doing something for a day and no one would understand why it didn't work out. Thing is, you can't remove one ingredient from the list of success. Removing persistence would be like removing the flour when cooking pancakes. Stick to the list and it will be successful by time - be patient. When you get demotivated don't give up whatever you do. Failure isn't an option, if there is a will there's a way!

In the balloon case, the irony is that I have a law against littering backing me up but still have to make a petition to ban balloon release. Still I have to argue with educated people on why it is wrong.

It's time to call a spade a spade.



Camilla Appelgren is an environmentalist

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