Turtle ingesting a piece of plastic. Source Unknown.
After a unanimous vote by the town council on April 2, the small island town of New Shoreham, Rhode Island passed a law banning the sale, use and distribution of balloons. The decision went into effect April 9th and anyone caught violating the ordinance will have to pay a fine up to $200. This is a fantastic win for Mother Nature and will hopefully set an example for more towns across the US to follow.
While balloons are a symbol of joy and celebration to many, their release into the environment has indisputable, horrific consequences, especially for wildlife. A released balloon can travel hundreds of miles, carried by the wind and ocean currents. Their strings can become entangled around an animals legs, fins, wings, neck, etc, and cause strangulation or entrapment. Some animals, especially marine animals that eat jellyfish like sea turtles, mistake balloons for food and try to ingest them. This blocks their digestive tract, leading to a very slow and painful death.
According to the non-profit organization Balloons Blow, the amount of balloons and balloon pieces found as litter on the beach have tripled in the past ten years. Additionally, a 2016 survey by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation found that balloons are one of the top three most harmful pollutants to wildlife, along with plastic bags and bottles.
Balloon releases are a popular celebratory gesture for things like fundraisers and weddings, but there are many alternatives such as planting trees or flowers, lighting sparklers, or my personal favorite, blowing bubbles. As for decorations, there are many different kinds of reusable flags, banners, streamers or paper pinwheels and pom-poms. It is clear that the superficial benefit of balloons is far outweighed by their negative environmental impact, and there are many smarter, more responsible options with which to replace them. Keeping balloons out of the oceans and other natural areas is something everyone can help in doing by not using them and supporting any balloon banning legislation.
Guercio is a biologist, environmentalist, and animal lover.