Revisions to Virginia’s balloon release law will result in fewer littered balloons on Virginia’s beaches, proponents believe.
The revised law, sponsored by Del. Nancy Guy (D-Virginia Beach), takes effect on July 1, and will prohibit the intentional releasing, discarding, or causing to be released any balloon outdoors. Violators are liable for a civil penalty of $25 per balloon.
The bill provides that if a person under the age of 16 releases a balloon at the instruction of an adult, the adult shall be liable for the civil penalty.
State law previously allowed the release of up to 49 balloons in a one-hour period.
Latex balloons, foil balloons, plastic ribbons and other balloon attachments “are among the deadliest types of ocean trash,” said Katie Register, executive director of Clean Virginia Waterways (CVW) and author of the 2021 report “Deadly Litter: Balloons & Plastic Ribbons on Virginia’s Coastal Beaches.”
Balloons present a threat of entanglement and ingestion to birds, marine life and mammals, according to Mark Swingle, chief of research and conservation at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center.
Balloon litter also often ends up between the high-tide line and dune vegetation on remote beaches, which impacts nesting migratory shorebirds and sea turtles, said Kathy O’Hara, a marine researcher who has studied how balloons and ribbons accumulate on coastal beaches.
“Balloon-related litter is often the No. 1 most common type of debris found during our surveys,” she said.
Research conducted by CVW and the Virginia Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Program, a network of state agencies and coastal localities, also found a significant correlation between balloon litter and power outages. Up to 20 percent of power outages are caused by released balloons, impacting thousands of Virginians annually.
“Many people don’t understand that there is no such thing as an environmentally-friendly released balloon,” said Virginia Witmer, Virginia CZM outreach coordinator. Her research can be found at www.preventballoonlitter.org, which provides alternate options to balloon releases at celebrations and memorial events.
“We can plant a native tree or garden or blow bubbles and simply keep our balloons securely tied and inside so we keep wildlife safer and the ocean cleaner,” said Laura McKay, Virginia CZM’s program manager.