In more and more places around the United States, it is becoming against the law to release a balloon into the air. Hawaii and Virginia became the latest states to ban balloons, establishing fines for those who ignore the ban. California, Florida and Tennessee already have banned mass balloon releases and some municipalities, like Atlantic City, New Jersey, levy fines of $500 against those that don’t comply with the new law.
Hawaii Governor David Ige just signed the nation’s toughest anti-balloon bill into law. People who violate the law would be fined $500 starting January 1, 2023. Hot air balloons and balloons used for scientific purposes by a government entity would be exempt. The bill was introduced by Democratic House Speaker Scott Saiki at the request of the nonprofit organization Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii (BEACH). It passed both the House and Senate chambers, before being approved by state legislators in the spring.
“I want to thank Speaker Saiki and all the lawmakers that have taken this action to prevent balloon litter in the ocean and on beaches and help protect Hawaii’s marine life and sea birds,” Suzanne Frazer with B.E.A.C.H. said in a prepared statement.
Virginia passed a similar law, although fines are in effect now. The Virginia law says: “It is unlawful for any individual 16 years of age or older or other person to intentionally release, discard, or cause to be released or discarded outdoors any balloon made of a nonbiodegradable or nonphotodegradable material or any material that requires more than five minutes’ contact with air or water to degrade. Any person convicted of a violation of this section is liable for a civil penalty of $25 per balloon released or discarded.” Fines collected in Virginia will go to the Game Protection Fund to protect wildlife. In Virginia, if an individual under the age of 16 releases a balloon “by arrangement with or at the instruction of an adult”, the adult shall be liable for the civil penalty assessed.
In 2017, the City Council of Atlantic City, New Jersey, voted to ban balloons from the Jersey Shore town. Often seen after special events or celebrations, balloons can float around in the sky, carried by local wind currents. Local politicians became concerned with what happens when they stop flying in the air: some could come down and create waste at area beaches, while others could be swallowed by marine life. Similar bans have passed in Ventnor, Margate and Longport in the Garden State.
The Atlantic City Council unanimously adopted the ordinance which imposes a $500 fine to “people or groups releasing balloons filled with gas-lighter-than-air”, such as helium.
Atlantic City Councilman Frank Gilliam sponsored the ban. “Atlantic City is a beautiful place,” Gilliam said. “The ocean is a beautiful element of our existence, so we want to protect it in any way we can.”
According to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, birds, turtles and other animals commonly mistake balloons for food, which can harm or kill them. Many animals can become entagled in baloon strings, which can kill them or damage their feet/hands/wings.
Anti-Balloon groups and websites recommend that people enjoy the sky with other means, such as kites. The BalloonsBlow.org website recommends people replace balloons with flags, banners, streamers, and dancing inflatables. According to their website, “Many businesses are realizing the benefits of using reusable eye-catching signage. Colorful streamers, flags and banners save money and time over balloons, ribbons and helium. They are also weather resistant, save Helium, and can be reused again and again!”