Howdy, fellow gel blaster nerds!
Gelly ball parties are hands down my favorite activities, and I frequently end up having intense games with my friends. However, just like you, when I first started playing with gel blasters, I was worried about their potential impact on the environment.
“Do you think these gel blaster balls are safe and eco-friendly?” – I asked my buddy Jeremy once, nodding at the pack of gellets. “Uh…yeah, I think so…the package says they are biodegradable”, he replied.
“I guess you’re right…but it doesn’t hurt to check,” – I told him, determined to figure out if gel blasters are bad for the environment. Well, here’s what I found out.
Good Or Bad? The Environmental Impact of Gel Blasters
In short, gel blasters aren’t bad for the environment, at least directly. As we found out, the water beads are biodegradable and eventually break down into the soil. Compared to other similar toy guns that simulate FPS experiences in real life (like airsoft guns, nerf guns, etc.), gel blasters are among the most environment-friendly options.
Here’s why you need not be concerned about your gel blaster potentially damaging the environment:
1. No Potentially Harmful Chemicals
Gel blasters are designed to be safe and non-toxic for kids and adults alike, and so is their ammo. Traditional Orbeez, gel balls and splatter balls are made of sodium acrylate polymers (or, sodium polyacrylate) that do not release any harmful chemicals to the environment.
As per FDA, sodium polyacrylate does not pose any significant acute toxicity to aquatic species like bacteria, algae, daphnia, and fish under USEPA toxicity classification guidelines. They even suggest that sludge containing adsorbed or precipitated sodium polyacrylate (concentration 0.6 mg/kg) may be landfilled or used as agricultural fertilizer.
According to FDA’s evaluation, sodium polyacrylate shows chronic No-Observed Effect Concentration (NOEC) of 225 mg/kg soil in plants like corn, wheat and soybean. Some gel balls are free of sodium polyacrylate and contain non-irritating starch-based material, which is even safer for the environment.
Hence, gel blaster balls are completely free of potentially harmful chemicals. Rest assured that you won’t be poisoning the environment with toxic chemicals when playing with a gel blaster.
2. Biodegradable Ammo
Once again, the gel beads are made of a biodegradable superabsorbent polymer. While it does take some time (several years), they still break down much faster than other types of polymers. Hence, you won’t be leaving behind plastic waste in the long run.
3. Easier To Clean
Gel blaster balls are less messy and easier to clean up compared to other toy gun ammo, so you can dispose of them appropriately. All you have to do is sweep them up together and put them in the soil or throw them along with other trash.
While gel blasters are not bad for the environment, I should also mention that there are some of reasons why their ammo aren’t 100% eco-friendly.
- The polymers used to make the gel beads cannot be recycled. Once you are done playing, you’ll simply have to discard the used gel balls.
- Depending on sunlight and other factors that affect the pace at which the splatter balls break down, the process can still take two to five years.
- A recent research by Professor Linda Chalker-Scott in the Washington State University has revealed that some low-quality hydrogels contain polymers of acrylamide (instead of sodium acrylate mentioned previously or a combination of both), a neurotoxin and a potential carcinogen. While these particular gel balls themselves pose no threat, they might release traces of acrylamide, when the polymer chains break down years later. However, the amount of this chemical released is quite low, and it’s unknown if it actually poses a hazard.
But, What About Their Toxicity To Humans And Animals?
While it’s definitely not recommended to ingest gel balls, you may rest assured that they are non-toxic to both humans and animals. Even besides gel blasters, the water beads are often used as sensory toys or for art and décor.
As young kids tend to ingest everything due to their size and texture, most gel blaster brands make sure that these beads are 100% non-toxic and free from acrylamide.
However, while you don’t have to worry about your pets getting poisoned from gobbling down your gel balls, they certainly aren’t safe to consume. Depending on the size of the animal and the number of gellets ingested, it may potentially result in choking or an intestinal blockage.
Besides, due to their ability to absorb large volumes of water, the beads can cause dehydration in both humans and animals.
Pros And Cons Of Gel Ball Blasters: At A Glance
While it’s safe to say that gel blasters are pretty environment-friendly, let’s get a quick rundown of the benefits and limitations of these fun toys in this regard.
The gel blaster beads are biodegradable and break down over time.
There are no toxins or other harmful chemicals in these gel balls.
It’s pretty easy to clean up Orbeez balls after a gel blaster game.
Although the plastic material of gel blaster guns are recyclable, their ammo is not.
The polymers used in the gel balls take years to break down.
Upon breaking down, gel beads may release acrylamide if it is a key material in their polymer chain.
Can You Play Safely With A Gel Blaster By Mitigating Its Effects On The Environment?
Yes. As you can see, the environmental hazard posed by gel balls is pretty low. You can still mitigate the risks further by playing a bit responsibly. Here are a few tips that I’d personally recommend:
Use High-quality Gel Beads: Make sure to choose high-quality gel blaster beads from reputed brands. These tend to break down faster and have the least environmental impact.
Don’t Waste Ammo: Avoid wasting ammo when playing with gel blasters. Choose your firing modes wisely and work on your accuracy to reduce waste. If you have a Gel Blaster Surge XL or Starfire XL, you may use the triple-fire burst mode to conserve ammo while maintaining a high fire rate.
Ensure Proper Disposal: Don’t leave your used Orbeez beads lying around. If you’re playing at a park or playground and the balls are landing in the soil anyway, there’s nothing to worry about. However, when playing indoors or on other concrete surfaces, it’s best to sweep/wash them up and put them in the soil so that they can decompose. Alternatively, you may also put them in a bag and throw them away with the rest of your trash. Here is a detailed guide to dispose of gellets.
Respect The Wildlife: Young gel blaster players sometimes ask me if they can use their toy guns to shoot squirrels or pigeons, which is a terrible idea. I mean, why? how do they even think about hurting innocent wildlife?! When playing with a gel blaster outdoors, please be mindful of local wildlife. Avoid disturbing or harming animals and birds, and respect their habitats. Show some humanity!
Educational Approach: If you play with gel blasters in a public area, consider educating others about responsible use and the importance of minimizing environmental impacts. Lead by example and encourage others to do the same like I do.
Also Read: Gel Blaster Safety Guidelines
Comparing The Environmental Impact Of Gel Blasters With Other Toy Guns
So, now that you know that gel blaster balls do have a few downsides, you might be wondering if it’s best to get a different type of toy gun. Well, let’s compare the environmental impact of gel blaster guns with that of other toy guns popularly used for similar games.
- Paintball Guns
Just like gel balls, paintballs are also eco-friendly. The pellets are made from biodegradable gelatin and eventually dissolve into the soil. However, the same can’t always be said about the paint inside them.
High-quality paintballs are filled with polyethylene glycol, which is biodegradable. Cheaper paintballs, however, sometimes use oil-based paint. Not only is it bad for the environment, but the way they are produced isn’t very eco-friendly either.
Learn More: Gel Blaster Vs Paintball
- Airsoft Guns
Airsoft guns, on the other hand, have a significant environmental impact in the form of land pollution. Unlike gel blaster balls, airsoft pellets were traditionally made from petroleum-based non-biodegradable plastic and often end up in landfills and water bodies.
Biodegradable airsoft bb pellets made from plant-based bioplastic materials are now available as a more eco-friendly alternative. However, they aren’t as popular as regular airsoft pellets due to being 10%-30% more expensive.
Learn More: Gel Blaster Vs Airsoft
- Laser Tag Guns
These are hands down the most eco-friendly toy guns (even more than gel blasters) you can get since they do not use any form of ammunition at all. Instead, laser tag guns shoot beams of harmless infrared light that are detected by receptors on the gear worn by the players.
- Nerf Guns
Nerf guns are generally better for the environment than gel blasters due to the nature of their ammunition. Those toy guns shoot foam darts, which are less likely to leave residue and are easier to clean up, reducing environmental impact.
Both foam darts and gel balls are biodegradable, but Nerf guns cause less potential harm in outdoor areas.
Conclusion: The Key Takeaways
So, considering all perspectives, I can say that gel blasters aren’t bad for the environment as long as their ammo does not contain acrylamide. As long as you do your best to mitigate the ecological impact the way I explained, there’s nothing to worry about gellets.
So, go ahead and enjoy a thrilling session of gel blaster games with your friends without worrying about potentially harming the environment. Still, if you feel too concerned about sodium polyacrylate and would like a more eco-friendly alternative, starch-based gel balls are really a good option.