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Balloon bans up in the air

A balloon release on the Long Beach boardwalk.

A balloon release on the Long Beach boardwalk. Credit: Amanda Fiscina

Lots of people have fond feelings for balloons. Festive symbols of congratulations for birthdays or weddings, they bounce above parties or barbecues, suggesting there’s something celebratory just below.

But when the celebration ends, things can get messy. Cue a popped balloon turning to litter, or one that’s released to the heavens, ultimately falling on power lines, trees or waterways, adding to the garbage filling our seas.

That’s why some on the South Fork are considering more balloon restrictions. The Town of Southampton is eyeing legislation that would bar the sale and/or distribution of balloons filled with such lighter-than-air gases as helium. Similar legislation has been pitched in East Hampton Town.

These flighty balloons don’t just bounce around and stay close to earth like air-filled ones. Town Councilman John Bouvier, who is sponsoring the Southampton legislation, estimates that 85-90,000 balloons are lost over the town and its beaches every year, based on a count of remains from the area's waste stream.

Bouvier, citing his experience as a submarine designer and avid diver, says he has seen deflated helium balloons in the water with other trash. Turtles, whales and other marine species can get entangled. Fish and birds and more have swallowed deflated balloons.

Some balloon merchants are concerned that a ban would deliver a big hit to their businesses. Sandra Fiore, owner of Hampton Balloon & Party Rental in the Town of Southampton, says that some 65% of her sales involve helium, and adds that it’s a tough time to constrain local businesses. Fiore noted that Hampton Balloon worked hard to grow during COVID-19 through no-contact deliveries and other measures.

The concerns are worth considering. But even balloon sellers have acknowledged the need to think about the environment regarding their wares. One effort Fiore’s business is making is selling refillable mylar balloons. Then there’s the push to tie weights to balloons to prevent accidental release, a concept supported by The Balloon Council, an industry group, which also wags a finger at intentional balloon releases.

Those are already banned in Suffolk County and come with fines starting at $500, a smart step toward reducing balloon-based trash. The few seconds of fun one gets watching a battalion of balloons fly away aren’t worth the long period that deflated balloons will spend as trash.

Suffolk also restricts plastic bags, plastic straws, and polystyrene containers. At the start of such efforts there is always resistance, but they are necessary to shift consumer behavior.

In any event, we all can play a role here. Consider how attitudes about litter started changing in the 1960s and 70s, with prodding from Lady Bird Johnson’s beautification campaign. When using balloons of any kind, why not dispose of them carefully at the end of their brief lives?

Stick a pin in them. You’ll help protect the environment with minimal effort — something plenty worthy of celebration.

— The editorial board