Helium-filled balloons could soon go the way of plastic straws and checkout bags on the South Fork.
Two East End towns are considering banning the sale of helium balloons as the newest initiative to cut down on pollution and protect wildlife, although some fear the proposals could deflate local businesses.
The Southampton Town Board is reviewing a bill that would prevent the sale and distribution of balloons filled with lighter-than-air gas with a fine of up to $1, 000 and/or 15 days in jail. Students in East Hampton Town also pitched the idea of banning helium balloons to the town board at a May 18 meeting although no formal legislation has been publicly presented.
Susan McGraw Keber, an East Hampton Town trustee, displayed photos of discarded balloons that landed in beach bramble and some that has been used in osprey nests during a presentation at the town meeting. The pictures underscored her point that a product that is only used for a few hours can remain in the environment for years.
"Obviously it’s not that important to the person whose birthday it was because they let it blow away into the woods," she said of a deflated "Happy Birthday" balloon.
Southampton officials have said they believe they would be the first Long Island municipality to adopt such a law, although similar legislation has passed in Massachusetts' Provincetown and Nantucket Island.
While a faded balloon can look like a jellyfish to sea creature and get lodged in its digestive track, they were not among the top 10 items collected from the sea in a 2019 report from environmental nonprofit Ocean Conservancy. Number one was food wrappers followed by cigarette butts, plastic beverage bottles, plastic bottle caps, and then straws and stirrers.
If adopted, the Southampton law would go into effect June 1, 2022. A public hearing was held in May and a second hearing is set for June 8. Southampton and East Hampton towns both adopted bans on the intentional release of balloons in 2019 and Suffolk County followed with a similar law.
Other laws passed in Southampton and East Hampton towns before being adopted countywide include bans on plastic straws, plastic bags and polystyrene containers.
But some people think prohibiting helium balloons is a step too far.
Sandy Fiore, owner of Hampton Balloon & Party Rental in Southampton, said in a phone interview that consumers would just patronize businesses outside of the township if the ban were enacted. She said about 65% of her business is helium balloon sales and said she would be forced to relocate if the law took effect.
Fiore also said latex is biodegradable and said she reuses foil balloons for confetti and wrapping.
Instead she and members of The Balloon Council, a nationwide trade group representing balloon retailers, want the town to require balloons to be sold with weights and are pushing for an education campaign so people don’t pollute.
"If you saw someone in Bridgehampton throw a macchiato cup out the window you wouldn’t ask Starbucks to stop making coffee," Fiore said.
A proposed Southampton Town law would:
- Prohibit the sale of balloons filled with lighter-than-air gases
- Impose up to a $1,000 fine and/or up to 15 days in jail for violators
- Go into effect June 1, 2022
- Second public hearing set for June 8