General Assembly approves ban on intentional balloon release

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The Rhode Island General Assembly today approved legislation sponsored by Representative Susan Donovan and Senator Susan Sosnowski to protect the environment and wildlife by prohibiting the intentional release of large groups of balloons.

The legislation, which now goes to the governor, would ban the intentional and simultaneous releases of 10 or more balloons into the air.

“All released balloons, including those falsely marketed as biodegradable, end up as litter on waterways and landscapes,” a press release sent by the General Assembly on behalf of the legislative states. “Animals, drawn to their vibrant colors and shapes, mistake them for food, causing injury or death to countless sea and land creatures each year. Balloons are also a nuisance to commercial fishermen and can even cause power outages when they get tangled with power lines ”.

“Balloons can conjure up sweet images of childhood innocence, and seeing them soar into the sky can seem wonderful and beautiful. But what goes up must come down, and when the balloons go down, they become a particularly insidious kind of rubbish. They often end up in the water and are among the types of plastic waste that kill and painfully maim fish, birds and other wildlife, ”said Representative Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth) in a press release. “Dropping balloons is harmful. While I am grateful that these events have become rarer in recent years as awareness of their impact has spread, they should be made illegal to ensure they become a thing of the past. Throwing hazardous plastic into the environment is not a proper celebration of anything in 2021. ”

According to Senator Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), “Rhode Island’s identity, so much of our economy and our way of life depend so much on a healthy ocean. Dropping balloons in Ocean State – where 21 of 39 towns and villages are coastal – is just not in line with our way of life or our efforts to improve our environment. The balloon release throws and endangers the animals, and this should not be tolerated in Rhode Island. “

The law project (2021-H 5376Aaa, 2021-S 0038Aaa) provides exceptions for scientific or meteorological balloon launches with government authorization, hot air balloon launches and indoor launches. It only applies to intentional release, not accidental release. Each offense would be punishable by a fine of $ 100 for a first offense and $ 250 for subsequent ones. The bill would come into force on November 1.

According to Save The Bay, the plastic remains of 503 balloons were found along the Rhode Island coastline during the September 2019 International Coastal Cleanup.

According to the General Assembly, the bill enjoys broad support from Rhode Island environmental groups and fishermen’s associations. In 2018, New Shoreham City Council passed an ordinance banning the sale of balloons on Block Island as a way to address this issue. The bill passed today would not ban the sale of balloons, only the release of balloons outside.

Kayaking enthusiast Representative Donovan said she witnessed firsthand the danger balloons pose to animals. A few years ago, while kayaking on the Sakonnet River off Portsmouth with a friend, she encountered a seagull entangled in the thread of a balloon. She captured the gull, which was injured and in pain, and used a nail clipper she had with her to free it from the string.


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