Lawmakers in one Maryland county want the practice of intentionally releasing balloons into the atmosphere to float away for good.
While municipalities across the country are banning plastic products from straws to bags, a new law will regulate the intentional release of balloons in Queen Anne's County, Maryland.
The law won’t entirely ban balloons, but rather the practice of intentionally releasing hundreds of non-biodegradable helium balloons into the air, which is often done for celebrations or at memorial services.
“If you want to have balloons out at your kid's birthday party or you want to have them at a wedding, get them,” says Commissioner Christopher M. Corchiarino, who proposed the bill that passed last month by an all-Republican board of county commissioners. “Tie them securely and then dispose of them properly when you're done.”
Anyone who deliberately violates the ordinance can face a fine up to $250.
Connecticut, Florida and Virginia all have laws that ban intentional balloon releases. Similar bills have been proposed in Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Maine, The Associated Press reports.
A 2018 study by researchers in Virginia recorded 11,441 pieces of balloon debris on uninhabited beaches between 2013 and 2017.
When loose, non-biodegradable balloons land in the wild, they can clog waterways and ensnare animals. On farms, they can scare the animals and disturb farmers rotating crops.
“You watch them going up into the air but they don't go into space,” Corchiarino says. “They do land back somewhere else and they're not biodegradable so they land in somebody else's yard.”
Corchiarino says he was contacted by a local environmental group that said they were finding deflated balloons all over the county.
Owners of one local farm found balloons with notes saying they were released in Ohio, and another farm was littered with balloons released at the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race — more than 500 miles away.
Some states ban balloon releases for reasons other than the environment, such as California. Pacific Gas & Electric told the AP that metallic balloons caused 203 power outages in the first five months of 2018.
This year, Clemson University ended a tradition of releasing 10,000 balloons into the air before football games, the AP reports, and one town in Rhode Island banned the sale of balloons to protect its marine life.
Lorna O'Hara, executive director of trade group the Balloon Council, told The Washington Post this month that laws banning balloon releases are a “slippery slope” to banning balloons entirely.
But Corchiarino says that’s not the case and this legislation differs from plastic straw bans because it targets a specific behavior, rather than a product.
“Is this going to save the world? No, and we're not saying that it is,” he says. “But it's a little thing that we can do to curb behavior that's unnecessary.”
This segment aired on September 9, 2019.