Balloons are a source of ocean pollution that can choke marine life like turtles and whales. But thanks to the work of Plastic Free Delaware, Surfrider Foundation Delaware Chapter, and other partners, Senate Bill 24 was signed into law in September 2021. The legislation bans intentional balloon releases in Delaware.
Has the ban made a difference? The answer to that is clearly YES!
In 2020, Surfrider Delaware collected 1,088 balloons during 56 beach cleanups.
As of October 2022, they have collected 392 balloons in 70 beach cleanups this year.
Many thanks go to everyone who supported the balloon release bill, and all of the beach cleanup volunteers! Your efforts are truly making a difference!
Friday, September 17, 2021
After more than three years of advocacy, Delaware SB24 has gone into effect and Delaware joins at least seven other states including Maryland and Virginia with similar laws. Even more important than the law itself, we need YOUR help in spreading the word about the harmful effects balloons and balloons releases have on our waters and wildlife. Special thanks to Senator Stephanie Hansen, the primary sponsor of SB24, for championing this bill, and to our Delaware Plastic Pollution Coalition partners who joined us in advocating for the law including Oceana, the MERR Institute, the Delaware League of Women Voters, the students at Sussex Academy, Delaware Surfriders, Delaware Surf Fishing, Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club, Delaware Nature Society, Delaware Ornithological Society, and the Humane Society of the United States.
The intent of this Act is to reduce the amount of litter and debris that ends up in the environment and to raise awareness on the harmful impacts balloons can have in order to reduce the release of balloons into our environment. To that end, this Act imposes a civil penalty (effective April 30, 2022) for the violation of intentionally releasing five or more balloons filled with helium or any lighter-than-air gases, to prevent litter which blights our communities and environment, and causes harm to wildlife and marine animals. The release of multiple balloons at one time is a single offense under this Act. This Act also establishes that intentionally releasing 1 to 4 balloons at one time is littering.
Great alternatives are readily available for use at commemorative events such as candles, blowing giant bubbles, flags, streamers, kites, drumming, organizing a charity event such as a book drive or a 5k run, or planting trees or gardens.
As the statewide nonprofit group working to address and reduce the use of single use plastics through education, outreach and policy initiatives, Plastic Free Delaware worked to develop support for legislation, and applaud Senator Stephanie Hansen for taking the lead on introducing and shepherding SB24 through in 2021. SB24 aimed to add clarity that, even though they go up before coming back down to earth unlike other litter, releasing balloons is just another form of littering which is already considered illegal.
Senate Bill 24 arose in part from the Anti-Dumping and Anti-Littering Task Force co-chaired by Sen. Hansen and Rep. Collins and which completed its report in 2018. As part of its work, the Anti-Littering Task Force sent letters to Delaware’s local governments seeking to encourage policies to outlaw balloons in festivals and parades. Another letter was sent to members of the Delaware Association of Funeral Directors to raise awareness of the issues embodied in balloon releases at commemorative events.
Many local governments across the U.S. and at least five other states currently have similar laws in place, including Maryland, Virginia, New Hampshire, Florida, Connecticut, and California. Passage of SB24 will elevate awareness of the important environmental issues related to balloon releases. We hope the enacted legislation will act as a springboard for increased education on the issue and serve to reduce the prevalence of balloon releases and their harmful impacts.
Balloons do not go to heaven. When a balloon is let go, it blows away and can travel many miles, only to burst or deflate & return to Earth. They land in the ocean and choke sea turtles, kill dolphins and whales, and the ribbons entangle birds. Often, they end up on our beaches, farm fields, or in trees, polluting our communities and environment. We encourage the choice of truly sustainable products & being mindful of the simple choices we can make to protect the planet we all share.
They may be pretty when they float away, but everything that goes up, must come down - and when they do, animals eat them and cannot digest them.
An approximate average of 1,000 balloons are found each year along Delaware's coasts during just the annual three-hour Coastal Cleanup each September. They litter our beaches and hang from our trees. They blight our communities and natural environments as well as our farm fields and pastures. Stop and think: littering in all its forms is illegal.
Releasing balloons is a form of littering. As littering relates to balloons:
• After traveling many miles, they can pollute the most remote & pristine places, as well as nearer to home our own beaches, landscapes, communities and marine environments.
• Once they do, they become a danger to any animal that comes in contact with it. Birds, whales, sea turtles, & other wild animals are killed by balloons. Even domestic and farm animals, such as horses, have been hurt and killed by balloons (they eat them when they land in their pastures, become baled in their hay, or they get spooked and bolt).
• When an animal swallows a balloon, its intestinal tract can become blocked, leading to starvation. Sea turtles & other marine creatures are known to confuse balloons as jelly fish. Ribbons & string that are attached to balloons are also a cause of entanglement & death.
Balloons can are an unsustainable use of helium which is actually in short supply and is a non-renewable product of extraction industries (oil and natural gas, fracking, refining) contributing to climate change. Once released to the atmosphere it is not retrievable. Helium needs to be reserved for more important priorities such as use in health care delivery.
Balloons are known to have caused dangerous power outages & spark fires after getting entangled in power lines.
Latex and mylar are not biodegradable, nor are any form of misleadingly marketed “biodegradable” balloons considered an acceptable alternative solution because 1) even so-called biodegradable balloons do not break down quickly and can still cause harm, 2) the strings can still strangle and entangle, 3) the definition of the term “biodegradable” is not regulated, and 4) this proposed solution deflects from the need for actual behavioral change regarding littering our environment.
Great alternatives do exist for use at commemorative events such as candles, blowing giant bubbles, flags, streamers, kites, drumming, organizing a charity event such as a book drive or a 5k run, or planting trees or gardens.
More info can be found at www.balloonsblow.org.
Virginia just tightened up its balloon law.
Current Mass Balloon Release Restrictions in U.S.:
Mass balloon releases are illegal in several states, cities, and countries, including:
STATES: California, Connecticut, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia.
U.S. CITIES: Huntsville, Alabama; San Francisco, California; Louisville, Kentucky; Ocean City, Maryland; Everett, Massachusetts; Nantucket, Massachusetts; Provincetown, Massachusetts; New Jersey – Atlantic City, Bradley Beach, Brigantine, Cape May City, Long Beach Township, Longport, Margate, North Wildwood, Sea Isle City, Somers Point, Upper Township, Ventnor; Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
OUTSIDE THE U.S.: Plymouth-UK, New South Wales-Australia, Sunshine Coast-Queensland-Australia.
To raise awareness about the issue of balloons, which are often used at memorial services or celebration of life events, the Anti-Littering/Anti-Dumping Task Force is sending out a letter to Delaware's funeral home directors to raise awareness that balloons are litter and are considered illegal under Delaware's littering law.