End Balloon Releases

Recognizing the serious threat posed to wildlife, livestock and pets by balloon litter, Rep. Matthew Dowling has introduced legislation (House Bill 2614) to prohibit intentional balloon releases in the Commonwealth.

While releasing a helium balloon during a celebratory event or a solemn memorial may be visually pleasing, in reality, it is detrimental to the environment and dangerous to animals.

What goes up must come down. There are many reasons why balloon releases are simply a bad idea. Once released, balloons can travel for hundreds of miles before they burst or deflate and become litter.

Seabirds, sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals are injured or killed after ingesting or becoming entangled in balloons and their strings. Animals on land such as horses, cows, and turtles are also at risk.

Balloons are commonly made of latex or mylar materials and present a danger to animals who perceive them as food, or they may get caught in the ribbons attached to them, hindering their ability to move around and feed causing immense pain and suffering. For example, when balloons burst, they resemble jellyfish, the natural prey of sea turtles, and subsequently block their digestive tract.

Seabirds are at particular risk; a recent study found that balloons are the leading marine debris risk of mortality for seabirds. They may ingest the balloon and ribbon and starve to death, or become entangled in the ribbon. More than 18,000 balloons, balloon strings, and other balloon pieces were picked up along the Great Lakes shorelines in Detroit from 2016 to 2018.

Even so-called ‘biodegradable’ balloons still take many, many years to break down in the environment, and in the meantime wildlife and marine animals can still ingest them, causing blockages, tremendous suffering, and eventual death. Bottom line: No balloon is truly biodegradable.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opposes balloon releases, as “Birds, turtles and other animals commonly mistake balloons for food, which can harm or even kill them.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also warns against the practice.

Alternatives to balloon releases include lighting a candle, creating a charity fundraiser, planting a tree, or organizing a service day. There are many other non-polluting alternatives that can be found by a quick search.

The good news is that there is momentum to end these polluting events. In 2021, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, Maine, Rhode Island, and Hawaii passed legislation to ban intentional balloon releases.

There so many alternatives to balloon releases. We can change course and honor our loved ones responsibly, while also limiting the pain and suffering of the wildlife we share this planet with.

%d bloggers like this: