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As Plastic Straw Bans Gain Momentum, Will Balloons be Next?

No minor joy or modern convenience is safe.

Miriam Doerr/Dreamstime.comMiriam Doerr/Dreamstime.comHaving extracted the straw from your milkshake in Seattle and ruined your boba tea experience in San Francisco, America's anti-straw crusaders have moved on to a new cause: banning birthday balloons.

Or at least that is what the headlines say.

"Plastic Bags and Straws Are Banned in Some Places. Here's Why Balloons Could Be Next," reads the headline at Time. "Plastic balloons join plastic straw controversy," announces Newsweek. "First it was plastic bags, then plastic straws. Now environmental groups are urging a ban on balloons," says National Public Radio.

An anti-balloon movement is certainly blowing in the wind. In April of this year, the town of New Shoreham, Rhode Island, banned the "sale, use or distribution" of balloons; pop off one of these prohibited inflatables and you'll be looking at a maximum $200 fine. And New Shoreham isn't alone. According to the anti-balloon group Balloons Blow, the Massachusetts towns of Nantucket and Provincetown both ban the sale and use of balloons. (Provincetown's only applies to the helium-filled ones.)

A creeping number of Florida cities and counties have banned balloons entirely on publicly-owned beaches and parks over the past two years. Fines for violators in some localities can hit $250, although park police say they'll go with warnings for first-time offenders. Last year also saw the introduction of bills in Washington and New Jersey that would make it illegal to intentionally release balloons. New Jersey's legislation, which ultimately failed, could have fined folks $500 for intentionally releasing even a single balloon.

Yet how closely this focus on banning balloons is the direct result of the movement to ban plastic straws is tough to say.

Unlike straw bans, which are a very recent phenomenon, the move against balloons goes back to the late 1980s. California has banned the release of foil balloons since 1990. Connecticut and Florida have long prohibited the release of more than 10 balloons within 24 hours. Plenty of other counties and cities have cracked down over the years on the "quick thrill" that is a balloon release.

But the obsessive focus on banning single-use plastic straws may have breathed new life into a dormant war on balloons. That has, in fact, been the explicit hope of anti-straw groups like Lonely Whale. One argument they have offered for straw bans is that the suckers are a "gateway plastic" whose prohibition will lead to bigger and better crackdowns on single-use plastic items.

"The issue of straws has really broadened the marine debris issue," Emma Tonge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), tells the Associated Press.

Anti-straw groups such as the Ocean Conservancy and the Marine Conservation Society have both also come out against balloons. Even writers and outlets, such as David Perry and The Outline, who have criticized straw bans for their ableism have been happy to hype balloons as more dangerous and less essential items that could potentially be banned instead.

The justifications for banning balloons mirror those of straw prohibitions: saving sea turtles and other wildlife from yet another aspect of our throwaway culture.

"We are very concerned about the environment. There's a lot of information out there of damages that balloons do to the wildlife," Kenneth Lacoste, first warden of the New Shoreham town council, tells CNN.

"Many animals are attracted to the bright colors 6 of balloons and mistake them for food which can cause severe injury or death. Many more animals become entangled in balloon strings and are injured or strangled to death as a result," reads the text of the 2017 New Jersey balloon release ban.

In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) put up photos of dead birds and sea turtles that had become entangled in balloon strings. "Some of the following pictures are hard to look at, but they make clearer than any words why we all should find alternatives to letting a balloon go," the agency explained.

As with straws, balloons' effect on the oceans have been overblown. They make up a tiny portion of the overall number of items collected via coastal clean ups each year—not even cracking into the top 10 number of items found, according to Ocean Conservancy, which runs a global coastal clean up each year. Balloons make up about 1 percent of items collected by California's coastal clean-up. (Straws make up about 3 percent.)

It's more plausible that balloons pose an outsized risk to wildlife. Birds and other animals can get tangled up in their strings fairly easily. And while latex, helium-filled balloons are supposed to shatter into tiny pieces when they float too high, plenty still manage to fall into the sea intact enough to be mistaken for food by sea turtles.

A survey of marine debris experts found balloons were ranked the sixth most likely item to impact marine animals. That makes them more impactful than straws and stirrers, but less dangerous than fishing gear, utensils, and plastic pieces.

When animals do swallow balloons, they're far from the only pieces of trash that they're eating. A 2012 survey of dead Australian turtles found that up to a third of them had debris in their bellies, and a third of that third had swallowed a balloon. Nevertheless, the balloons accounted for only about 3 percent of all debris recovered from the turtles' stomachs.

Many will say that that's still too many balloons being eaten by sea turtles, and they're probably right about that. It is true as well that unlike straws, which need only make their way to the garbage can to not become an environmental problem, releasing balloons into the air is in effect littering.

Nevertheless, the fact that balloons can be such a tiny percentage of the plastic debris in animals' stomachs shows the absurdity of focusing on a single item rather than dealing with the problem of plastic (and rubber) marine debris holistically. Solving that problem requires fewer bans on individual items and better waste management in East Asia and Africa, where the vast majority of marine debris and plastic waste originates.

Photo Credit: Miriam Doerr/Dreamstime.com

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) put up photos of dead birds and sea turtles that had become entangled in balloon strings.

    For people who supposedly freaking love science, they sure don't want to let Darwinian evolution improve a species or two.

  • Longtobefree||

    No doubt. I have been whining for years about the eco-freaks not respecting Darwin. Bunch of science deniers just want more government regulation of any old damn thing. If they really cared about the environment, they would be pushing for abolishment of the EPA so good ol' Darwin can get to work on all the stupid little fish that get in the way of man.
    Actually, man being in control of the plants and animals is a Genesis kind of thing, and therefore probably violates the Jefferson letter part of the constitution 'separation of church and state'.

  • LamarPye||

    Ban the string, that will also curb the autoerotic asphyxiation epidemic

  • Dillinger||

    >>>Or at least that is what the headlines say.

    funnier if you'd added yours at the end of the list

  • Sevo||

    "In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) put up photos of dead birds and sea turtles that had become entangled in balloon strings."

    Gee, wonder why they haven't put up photos of dead birds which ran into wind turbines.

  • Don't look at me.||

    Those were suicides.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    Well, that's different, you see. The dead birds which ran into wind turbines are just the eggs that had to be broken to make the Green Energy Omelet.

  • Jgalt1975||

    Yes, because there's no such thing as utilitarian distinctions in public policy. [INSERT EYE-ROLL GIF HERE]

  • I'm Not Sure||

    "As Plastic Straw Bans Gain Momentum, Will Balloons be Next?"

    A question? Are you serious? For progressives, something else is *always* next.

  • ||

    I still await the day when people 'never apologize' and give an inch to progressives.

    It's never enough.

  • LamarPye||

    Condemns next

  • ||

    Which animals do balloons kill?

  • ||

    Ah. Turtles. Always the turtles.

  • Cloudbuster||

    Ban turtles.

  • Longtobefree||

    What about all the balloon animal twisters in restaurants and parks? Who will replace their income?
    And since they usually make balloon animals, who will protect THOSE animals?
    WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?????

  • Doug Heffernan||

    Someone probably has their sights on my one day disposable contact lenses, because the new york times wrote over the weekend that 20% of users (or 100% of idiots) flush them down the toilet everyday.

    Single use plastic wouldn't be such a problem if people would put it all in the bin. How can this sort of behavior be incentivized?

  • An Non||

    Given that one-day disposable contact lenses are generally have a lower risk of eye infections, I'd be inclined to insist that any ban come with them accepting fiscal responsibility for any & all eye infections and damage caused by (including deaths) in those who live in the area and use contacts.

    When I've been using disposable contact lenses, I've actually popped them back into the container they came to drop them in the trash--it worked really well for ensuring I took them out.

    That said, if they're making it past the sewage treatment plant, it's a pretty good sign your sewage treatment plant isn't doing its job & plastics in the water are the least of your water pollution worries.

  • Longtobefree||

    Do not believe what is published in the New York Times

  • ||

    So when we're banning balloons, does that include all balloons? Asking for a friend.

  • Doug Heffernan||

    How close of a friend are you asking for?

  • Cloudbuster||

    Of far more concern than plastic litter with balloons is the helium. Until/unless we develop a reliable large-scale fusion process or fivure out how to gather large amounts of helium from space and send it down to Earth economically, helium is an extremely limited resource. One of the most common elements in the universe, but not so common down here in the gravity well.

    Pissing any part of our known reserves away on party balloons seems pretty irresponsible.

  • Doug Heffernan||

    What do we need to save the helium for other than balloons and talking in a squeaky voice?

    I remember that an episode of the big bang theory revolved around buying some illicit helium out of a van from a guy in a parking garage. But I don't remember what sheldon wanted the helium for. What is the most morally responsible use of helium? Are all of the helium mines going bone dry?

  • Cloudbuster||

    See the link I just posted as a reply to my own comment. Helium is irreplaceable or difficult to replace for a variety of scientific and industrial uses.

  • Cloudbuster||

  • Doug Heffernan||

    I also found this: https://sciencing.com/helium-mined-8694777.html

    So, helium is a component of natural gas. But I guess that it is just a component of some natural gas?

    With the way that we have been fracking up the whole world lately, we haven't been able to find any more natural gas with some helium in it?

  • Mike Laursen||

    We have been. It just has to become economically worthwhile to recover the helium.

    We have a LOT of helium in storage right now.

  • Jgalt1975||

    The non-replenishable status of helium is why I personally discourage people from using helium-filled balloons, but I have mixed feelings about an outright ban on them. A sales tax on retail helium sales could be a good compromise.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    No more taxes.

  • Longtobefree||

    Please explain clearly and slowly how the tax will generate more helium.
    If it is taxed, the government will encourage its use to increase revenue, and it will go away much faster.

  • Ron||

    I know some places have banned the metallic balloons because they have shorted power lines and caused fires. that makes sense the rest is PC garbage

  • Naaman Brown||

    I heard that Cody Wilson's next project is to post 3D printer files for making unregistered and untraceable Candle Powered Hot Air Balloons.

    Ban files? Ban 3D printers? Ha. Google DIY_Candle_Powered_Hot_Air_Balloon. The world underground has plans published everywhere on how to build a candle powered hot air balloon in a home workshop or garage using painter's plastic, balsa wood, and birthday candles.

    That genie is already out of the barn door, and that horse cannot be put back in the bottle.

  • Uncle Jay||

    Next up for banning for the public good: exhaling.

  • Curly4||

    Only if you have a cigarette you mouth when you inhaled.

  • Longtobefree||

    But only for liberals and lawyers who think CO2 (plant food) is a really bad thing.

  • TaxmanNC||

    So, ok if the merchant does not provide the straw. But what if I bring my own, reusable straw? Can I possess my own plastic straw for my personal use???

    Also, many places no longer offer plastic bags, but I have two dogs and we used plastic grocery bags to collect the poop. So if I am traveling to California, is it ok for me to use my own, private, plastic bags to pick up dog poop? Not getting them in CA and not leaving them in CA, but using them for my own private use and not going to landfills.

    Mainly wondering what business of the state is dealing with my personal affairs if I am not polluting?

    I moved from CA to NC in 1993 because CA was getting too personal and interfering with private matters they had no business in. Glad I made the move because CA has gotten so much worse in those years.

  • Jgalt1975||

    As far as I'm aware, none of the plastic straw bans or plastic bag bans in effect so far prohibit private individuals from purchasing and using their own plastic products. They just restrict businesses from providing them free of charge to customers for other products/services.

  • Muzzled Woodchipper||

    The loophole is already evident.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I litter in california as much as possible. I ask for hand- fulls of straws and throw them down.

    I guess I need to bring bags and bags of balloons from Georgia to release over commifornia.

    That state is a scourge and I do as much as can to hasten its demise.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Ugh. I just found out there's a bill going to the California governor for signature that bans restaurants from offering anything but water or (non-chocolate) milk on their kid's menus. It hasn't even been mentioned in the news, but it's going to make going out to eat with my kids a pain.

  • Robert||

    Just order them beer from the adult menu.

  • laina||

    I took my kids to McDonald's after their soccer games this past weekend and ordered happy meals for the two youngest. They told me they stopped selling chocolate milk and now only offer white milk or organic apple juice with their kids' meals. My kids won't drink white milk and hate the taste of their apple juice, so I asked if we could just get an ice water or a bottled water with their happy meals instead, and they said that we have to choose either milk or apple juice, even if they get an ice water because we'll be charged for the drink, and that they won't replace those with a bottled water. I said forget it and just ordered a cheeseburger, small fries, and ice water for them. No more happy meals for my kids. I would much rather they have an option for water or chocolate milk over apple juice, because at least chocolate milk has calcium and protein in it. I have a feeling that the other fast food restaurants will start following trend.

  • J Neil Schulman||

    Condoms come next.

    http://ncc-1776.org/tle2018/tl.....19-04.html

    Plastic Politics
    by J. Neil Schulman

  • Curly4||

    Those are no longer needed since there is abortion on demand?

  • My Dog Bites Better Than Yours||

    The balloon ban proposal has been around for years, just no one took it seriously. I didn't see the soda straw thing coming, and never thought it would gain support so fast (even in SoCal). Local news this morning was talking seriously about "banning plastic balls (not sure of the details)". Even a plastic ball ban is a hoax, the fact that it could be taken seriously boggles the mind.

    Anyone want to start a pool for the next dumb-ass thing they will ban? Extra points for guessing the date when the first ban be enacted.

  • LamarPye||

    Paper

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Oxygen

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Cars

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Commifornia will try and ban airplanes from landing in the state. All airports will be closed down as per the state communist party HQ.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Never underestimate how hard folks will jump for doing something that makes them feel like they are doing good, but not at the cost of any significant inconvenience to themselves.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Yeah that attack on coffee was rolled back super quick.

    All those hipster Lefties that drink coffee will never tolerate such a bold attack on coffee.

  • Longtobefree||

    It came so fast because the number made up by a school kid was so big it had to believed.

  • ToddP||

    It'll never be able to be enforced. The straws make up for less than 1% of the plastic in waters. If you take balloons away it'll be deemed racist as these are used every other day by the urban folks to honor the family members who are shot and killed each day.

  • Curly4||

    And these balloons are are filled with helium a by product of the oil industry which is polluting the air the water the ground and the oceans. So banning balloons would reduce the profits of the oil industry driving it out of business faster.

  • Rockabilly||

    All plastic must be banned so the climate can be changed correctly.

  • John B. Egan||

    Seriously? Plastic is a terrible problem worldwide... and the author thinks Asia and Africa should fix it... Where does he think the US sends their plastics to be 'recycled'? China already 'recycles' 45% of the world's plastic. The U.S. alone, ships nearly 4,000 shipping containers full of plastic recyclables a day to Chinese recycling plants. As a reaction to Trump's tariffs, China has decided to stop accepting the worlds plastic waste.

    Now That China Has Refused To Recycle The West's Plastics, Where Will They Go?

    https://n.pr/2KfSot8

    Maybe the author thinks the world's oceans would be in better shape if only Africa and Asia would stop blowing up all those damned balloons? Derp!

  • Intelligent Mr Toad||

    USA's total output of non-degradable plastic accounts for ONE PERCENT of the world's total output, and, scientists are developing living organisms which degrade so-called "non-degradable" plastic.

  • An Non||

    You might want to rethink your complaint--China's somewhat infamous for the...non-quality of its recycling industry. I'd not want to bet on the majority of that plastic actually getting recycled.

    I'd also not want to bet on what does get recycled being recycled in a manner that isn't horrific for everybody around it, but A-OK in the mind of the Green faithful because the pollution is happening elsewhere and in the name of sacred work. (That it might be distinctly less harmful to have just buried it somewhere local is beside the point.)

    Wonder what it might take to get them to stop accepting electronic waste. That'd be really good, have you seen pictures of the recycling center for that stuff?

  • Curly4||

    Yes balloons should be next but it should not stop there. Plastic food packing, transfusion bags along with syringes should be on the list.

  • ejhickey||

    I am waiting for straws to be banned in Chicago. I have a huge supply of straws that will leave at McDonalds for everyone to use

  • Intelligent Mr Toad||

    We MOST CERTAINLY SHOULD ban birthday balloons. Not because of the plastic, but because of the helium. Helium is a very precious resource, with lots and lots of ultra-important scientific and technological applications, and it is not renewable. Allowing it to be used for frivolous purposes is extraordinarily unwise.

  • Longtobefree||

    Plus it would balance the budget.
    No birthday balloons, no birthdays.
    No birthdays, no one gets older.
    No one gets older, no new social security recipients.
    No new social security recipients, and the old ones die off, no social security drag on the federal budget.
    Genius.
    (Please do not let any California legislators read this post, Thanks)

  • Wise Old Fool||

    releasing balloons is stupid and it does pollute, but fuck regulations and fuck every increasing government. Educate people about how fucking stupid it is and let that be the end of it. And put up the pictures of dead birds and turtles. The truth is the truth and no one should be shielded from it. That's the only way to make an informed decision in the democratic process.

  • vek||

    The evil, greedy, capitalist pig in me wants to develop biodegradable balloons to sell to hippies... If I were an evil crony capitalist, I would also push to get regular rubber/plastic/foil balloons banned in all states after securing a patent for my biodegradable balloon...

  • mpercy||

    The entrance the Clemson Tigers make for every home game is unique in that players run down the hill to the field after touching Howard's Rock for good luck. As they do so, a massive amount of orange balloons would be released into the air to add to the visual of the moment. Starting this season, however, that part of the tradition may be removed entirely.

    According to a report from TigerNet.com, the releasing of balloons will no longer be a part of the pregame entrance at Clemson. Per the original report;

    "A source confirmed to TigerNet Friday night that the decision was made recently (not made by the Board of Trustees). TigerNet was told that it was a "campus decision" and it had been a "long time coming."

    The tradition of releasing balloons started as a stunt to set the world record for the largest balloon release, and it has remained a part of the home game tradition for over 30 years.

    The release of so many balloons does raise some environmental concerns, of course, and the concerns are similar to ones raised to Nebraska in recent years. Nebraska was sued by a Nebraska resident in 2016 over the release of balloons at Nebraska football games, claiming the release to be a threat to children and animals. After all, those ballons have to come down to the surface sometime. That lawsuit was later dismissed by a federal court.

  • ||

    NOt BALLoons

    CoNDoMS

  • drisco304||

    I promise not to throw any more straws or balloons into the ocean. There. That should do it.

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