Editorial: Up Up and Away

This bird died as a result of getting tangled in a balloon string. (Photo by Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Program via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0)

What goes up must come down. Colorful helium-filled balloons that are set free into the sky at weddings, memorials, other celebrations or simply as a photo op eventually do make their way back to earth—as lifeless sacs of deflated hopes and dreams.

Long Beach, one of Nassau County’s most environmentally friendly cities, recently approved a ban on the intentional release of balloons. I know it sounds like, at best, a buzzkill and, at worst, a form of government overreach, but there’s a good reason behind the decision. Fallen balloons line gutters, clog waterways, cling to tree branches and, worst of all, suffocate wildlife.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service warns that birds, turtles and other animals commonly mistake colorful balloons for food. In addition, animals can become entangled in the strings, which can lead to restricted movement and strangulation.

Don’t be fooled by latex balloons marketed as biodegradable or eco-friendly. Those still take up to four years to disintegrate, allowing plenty of time to choke a few marine mammals to death. On a landmass surrounded by water, this scenario happens all too often.

Mylar balloons take even longer to break down, and ‘break down’ is a relative term when it comes to metalized plastic. It may fall apart, but will never truly go away the same way organic materials can decompose. A more immediate issue—because Mylar balloons conduct electricity, if they get caught in power lines they can cause power outages.

Several states and cities across the United States have already passed laws relating to the release of helium-filled balloons, including East Hampton. The ban in Long Beach would carry a hefty fine for those who disobey. But the best part about this ban is that it will bring awareness to a problem most people would never have known about otherwise.

Let’s cut down on the ugly litter and save a few animals in the process. Hold onto those balloons.

—Kimberly Dijkstra

Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear from you! Send a letter to the editor to kdijkstra@antonmediagroup.com.

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