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Please let’s Ban the Release of Balloons in New Jersey

Released Balloons result in the injury or death of many wild animals, especially to coastal wildlife

Let’s face it, to the average person, balloons seem harmless; and appear cute, colorful, and charming. They are low cost and come in all kinds of sizes, colors and patterns. Why would anyone want to ban the release of a balloon? 

Releasing balloons into the sky seems like a picture-perfect way to honor the memory of someone lost, increase awareness about a subject, or to celebrate an occasion during a wedding, graduation party, sports event, or more. 

Yet, releasing balloons so they will float far into the air or accidentally letting balloons drift away can result in the injury or death of many wild animals, especially to coastal wildlife since about 71 percent of Planet Earth is made up of water.

Helium-filled balloons and their fragments are making their way to the coast — and hurting or killing coastal animals in the process.

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A 2015 academic paper presents good evidence that balloons are among the most dangerous types of pollution for coastal wildlife, along with fishing gear and plastic bags. A 2017 report from Ocean Conservancy has ranked balloons as a top deadly form of litter, behind discarded fishing nets and plastic bags. Releasing balloons is just another way of littering, since all balloons will return to the ground or water to pollute, including those falsely marketed as “biodegradable.”

Save Coastal Wildlife has identified three (3) main problems with balloons getting released in the outdoor environment in New Jersey:

1) Balloons kill wildlife!

Biodegradable" Latex Balloons in Hawksbill sea turtle. Balloons removed from inside Hawksbill sea turtle in August 2011.  Photo from Balloons Blow

Biodegradable" Latex Balloons in Hawksbill sea turtle. Balloons removed from inside Hawksbill sea turtle in August 2011. Photo from Balloons Blow



Balloons will eventually land, most of the time in or near the water, and when they do, balloons do not discriminate among living things. Seabirds, sea turtles, dolphins and other coastal wildlife commonly mistake balloons for jellyfish or other sources of aquatic food. When whole balloons or colorful pieces of latex or Mylar are mistaken for food and ingested, they can get lodged in the digestive tract of an animal, preventing an animal’s ability to eat. This will cause the animal to have a slow, uncomfortable, and largely painful death by starvation.

For example, in 1985 a 15-foot-long juvenile sperm whale washed up on a New Jersey beach with a balloon in its stomach. Two years later in September 1987 a leatherback sea turtle washed up dead in New Jersey with a balloon in its digestive tract contributing to its death.

2. Many Wild Animals Become Entangled in Balloon String

Many sea animals can also become entangled in balloon strings around their beak, wings, fins, tail, mouth or other body parts. The ribbons can become wrapped around an animal as they swim or move in the water, which may hinder their ability to forage for food, find a mate or escape predation. Even worse, sometimes balloon string can strangle an animal or severely cut a part of their body when the string gets attached to a buoy, driftwood, or a pier or piling.  Over the years, seabirds have been found along the Jersey Shore injured with balloon ribbons wrapped around their beaks or wings, or have been found strangled as the frazzled animal attempted to get free. 

3. Balloons are Trash!

Balloons are also negatively impacting our physical environment by littering our beaches, parks, preserves, public lands and waterways. They are pointless pollution. 

For example, sometime around 2014, more than a hundred balloons were collected at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey during a public cleanup, and that’s just the number that made it to this one particular beach.

Clean Ocean Action, a New Jersey based coastal environmental organization, recently announced that in 2018, volunteers during their annual beach sweeps event had collected a record-setting 5,470 pieces of balloons along the Jersey Shore – a 32 percent increase from 2017. When compared to other trash, balloons often rank as a top marine debris item in many coastal states. For example, a pair of reports by the Virginia Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Program at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Clean Virginia Waterways of Longwood University, as part of a five-year study on balloon litter in Virginia’s coastal environments, found that balloons and their attached plastic clips and ribbons made up 40 percent of all debris recorded, followed by plastic bottles and fishing gear.

Even balloons marketed as biodegradable or “eco-friendly” because they are plant based can still take years to disintegrate, meaning they’re not any better for the environment than standard balloons. According to Debra Duncan from the Environmental Nature Center in Newport Beach, CA, “there are two types of balloons in general use – latex and mylar. Although latex balloons are considered bio-degradable, this will take anywhere from 6 months to 4 years to decompose and they can wreak a lot of havoc before they do.” She goes on to write that, “in one experiment researchers observed that balloons floating in seawater deteriorated much slower, and even after 12 months, still retained their elasticity.” 

The Florida based Balloons Blow organization also shows on their website that releasing “biodegradable” latex balloons can take four years or more to fully breakdown. Starting in 2011, they followed the life of a balloon exposed to intense Florida sun, wind, water and torrential rains; and siting in the soil. Over five years, fragments of the latex balloon were still intact. 

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Solutions

The solution is simple – don’t release balloons outdoors! 

Unfortunately, the temptation is always there for some uninformed people or groups. For example, in 2017 several people released 100 helium-filled balloons in Hardyston Township, NJ for a special event. 

This is why Save Coastal Wildlife is seeking a total ban of releasing balloons outdoors in New Jersey. Not just along the coast, but a ban throughout the State of New Jersey. 

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Balloons Can Travel Far Away!

Even if balloons are released far away from the coast, they often still end up along the coast or in the ocean.  Balloons have been found to travel hundreds, even thousands of miles. “For example, a balloon released during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan on February 7, 1998 was found a mere 49 hours later in Los Angeles, California (1). It was calculated that this balloon traveled 5,300 miles at an average of more than 100 miles per hour.”

Another example of how far balloons can travel is exemplified in nearby New York State, on the southern shore of Long Island near the hamlet of Amagansett, not far from Montauk. In November 2018, a person found an intact Husker balloon that travelled 1,400 miles away from a Nebraska football game. University of Nebraska football fans have a long-held tradition of releasing thousands of balloons upon the Huskers’ first touchdown in Memorial Stadium. In fact, more than 21,000 balloons were released during Husker home games during the 2018 season. 

It’s Not Easy Creating A Ban On Releasing Balloons

While several states already have legislation regulating the release of balloons, including Connecticut, California, Virginia, and Florida, it will not be easy to do the same in New Jersey. 

Why? The Balloon Council, a lobbying organization of retailers, distributors and manufacturers formed in 1990 to inform people and politicians about how great balloons are, is located in Trenton, NJ. 

Writer Michael Waters in an April 26, 2018 article in the Outline tells us that in 2017, the Balloon Council “funneled $344,099 into state lobbying efforts.” He goes on to state that their primary target in all that spending is to fight anti-balloon environmental laws in New Jersey that the council worries will create a negative narrative about balloons and cripple the industry. The Balloon Council has also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past few years defeating proposed bans across the nation. 

Just look what happened in California in 2008.  Waters continues in his article that “when California was considering an outright ban on the sale of foil balloons, the Council sprung into action….They bankrolled a movement called Save Our Balloons, the website of which featured a photo of a crying baby girl beside the ominous text: “It’s true. California politicians want to pop her balloon.” Though sponsors of the California bill pointed to a 2007 study showing that balloons get stuck in power lines and cause up to $120 million in damages annually, the Balloon Council’s warnings prevailed. In September 2008, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill.”

This is why in New Jersey people go town to town in an effort to ban the release of balloons. The effort is slowly taking hold. There are around 14 New Jersey towns with balloon releasing bans, including Atlantic City, Bradley Beach, Tinton Falls, and Long Beach Township. But this method is time-consuming and cumbersome

How can you help?

 

  1. Please email, tweet, post a message on Facebook or send a letter to your New Jersey State senator and two assembly people and the New Jersey Governor. Please tell them and everyone that all released balloons, including those falsely marketed as “biodegradable latex,” return to the ground and water as ugly litter. They kill countless animals and cause dangerous power line problems throughout the state.

  2. Instead of using balloons - use a bubble machine to release many many many harmless bubbles into the sky. Bubbles are fun and can create stunning photographs. Watching thousands of bubbles float up into the sky can be an amazing sight and just as symbolic as seeing several balloons float away, but without damage to the environment.

  3. One Green Planet suggests planting native trees and wildflowers is a beautiful way to create a memory that lasts for years to come – and give a little something back to nature.  Another fun idea is to have people release milkweed seeds, which helps populations of monarch butterflies thrive by replenishing depleted supplies of the milkweed plant that is essential to their survival.  

  4. Please visit the Balloons Blow website for more information, more ways to help, and alternatives to releasing balloons into the sky.

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Sources:

(1) Balloon Litter on Virginia’s Remote Beaches:Results of Monitoring from 2013 through 2017

A report from Clean Virginia Waterways of Longwood University to the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program for the FY16 Task 94.03 Grant

August 2018

Submitted by:
Christina Trapani, Christina Trapani Consulting
Kathryn O’Hara, Marine Scientist, Independent Contractor
Katie Register, Clean Virginia Waterways of Longwood University