Why a California Beach Town Just Banned Balloons

Laguna Beach, California, bans balloons because they contribute to marine debris.

Laguna Beach, California
photo: Apu Gomes (Getty Images)

This story was originally published by grist. You can Subscribe to the weekly newsletter here.

Celebrations in a beach town in California will soon be without an iconic disposable gift: balloons.

The City Council of Laguna Beach, about 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles, approved on Tuesday prohibit its sale and use of all types of balloons, citing their contribution to marine litter and health and safety risks from potential fires when they hit power lines. From 2024, people using balloons on public property or at city events could emerge Fines up to $500 for each violation. (Balloons, which are used exclusively in residential buildings, are an exception to the ban.)

The vote is part of a growing nationwide movement to limit the use of balloons, as well as a broader article-by-article push to limit problematic single-use products like plastic straws and bags. Right now, most balloon-related state and city laws only target that intentional release from balloons filled with helium, but experts say outright bans are gaining traction as people better understand their environmental impact. Nantucket, Mass., in 2016 every balloon forbidden filled with a lighter-than-air gas and there are similar prohibitions in places like EastHamptonNew York and Solana Beach And Encinitas, California.

“Plastic in the ocean and in the environment in general is getting more attention,” Chad Nelsen, executive director of environmental nonprofit Surfrider Foundation, told Grist. “It’s good that people are looking at these disposables that we use every day and not thinking about the consequences.”

Balloons, especially those filled with helium, often pollute the oceans after just a few hours. Those made of latex – some kind of soft, synthetic or natural material that can tolerate collapse for decades — can be mistaken for food by marine animals and birds. When ingested, latex can conform to the stomach cavities of birds and cause nutrient deficiencies or suffocation.

Balloons made from Mylar, a type of plastic covered with thin metal, basically never break. “They really are staying until the end of time,” Kara Wiggin, a graduate student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told me. The attached plastic cords can strangle and then splinter marine life microplastics contaminating drinking water and the food chain.

Mylar balloons can also get caught in power lines, causing power outages or fires. According to the City of Riverside, California, balloons caused more than 1,300 minutes of power outages for its public water and electric utility in 2021. Other cities and utilities are reporting thousands of taxpayers loses power every year when balloons get caught in power lines.

Wiggin said balloons are just a small part of society’s broader addiction to disposables, but their ban was “low-hanging fruit”. “We don’t throw things into the environment on purpose, but we often do that with balloons,” she told Grist. “This is a practice that must be stopped.”

Nelsen said they exist lots of balloon-free ways to keep the fun going, including paper-based decorations, streamers, flags, kites and pinwheels – many of which can be safely reused dozens of times. “Let’s find a way to celebrate children’s birthday parties without killing marine life,” he said.

This article originally appeared in grist at https://grist.org/cities/heres-why-a-california-beach-town-just-banned-balloons/. Grist is a non-profit, independent media organization dedicated to telling stories about climate solutions and a just future. Learn more at Grist.org

https://gizmodo.com/why-a-california-beach-town-just-banned-balloons-1850154368 Why a California Beach Town Just Banned Balloons

Zack Zwiezen

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