Representative Susan Donovan has introduced a bill to protect the environment and wildlife by banning the intentional release of balloons into the air.
“We are known as the Ocean State and for our beautiful beaches. We must keep them clean and safe not just for people, but for wildlife. Plastic pollution is one of the biggest hazards to animals, and this is an easy way to cut down on an item that poses one a serious danger to them,” said Representative Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth).
Balloons pose a significant threat to wildlife and the environment. They often end up in waterways, where animals are attracted by their vibrant color and mistake them for food, which can cause injury or death to the animal. Animals also can become entangled in the string or remains of balloons. According to Save The Bay, the plastic remains of 835 balloons were found along Rhode Island’s shoreline during its statewide cleanup in 2017.
Representative Donovan, an avid kayaker who represents a coastal district, has witnessed these dangers firsthand. A couple of years ago, while kayaking on the Sakonnet River off Portsmouth with a friend, she encountered a seagull entangled in the string of a balloon. She captured the gull, which was injured and suffering, and used some nail clippers she had with her to free it from the string.
The bill (2019-H 5865), which is modeled after legislation proposed in New Jersey, would prohibit any intentional release of balloons, except for scientific or meteorological purposes with government permission, hot air balloon launches as long as the balloons are recovered, and indoors. Each violation would be punishable by a fine of up to $500 per offense, although releases of multiple balloons at once would be considered a single offense.
“Many people release balloons during celebrations, but they do not think about the harm it brings to our state and wildlife.” said Representative Donovan. “Balloons released that way are causing wildlife to suffer very painful and totally needless death. I don’t think anyone really wants their celebration to inflict that kind of suffering. It’s time to put an end to this unintentional but very harmful type of pollution.”
She added that she attended an event that was part of the Newport stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race last year, when Dee Caffari, the skipper of a competing yacht named “Turn the Tide on Plastics,” talked about the extent of the plastics pollution she witnessed in her time sailing around the world. The item that bothered her most, she said, was balloons.
Last year, the New Shoreham Town Council passed an ordinance banning the sale of balloons on Block Island as a means of addressing this issue. Representative Donovan’s bill would not prohibit balloon sales, only the outdoor release of balloons.