In what city officials and environmentalists called a win for the environment, the City Council voted unanimously April 16 to ban the intentional release of balloons.
Long Beach — which enacted a 5-cent fee on plastic and paper bags in 2017 — is the first municipality in Nassau County to pass a law prohibiting the release of latex, Mylar and plastic balloons to protect the environment and wildlife.
The law carries a $250 fine for any person, nonprofit organization, firm or corporation to intentionally release or organize the release of any amount of balloons inflated with helium or a gas that is “lighter-than-air” within the City of Long Beach. Balloons released on behalf of a governmental agency or for government-sanctioned scientific or meteorological purposes would be permitted.
“This really because of the Surfrider Foundation’s advocacy work and they also had the opportunity to reach out to the city and said this was something they wanted to do,” Councilwoman Anissa Moore said before the meeting.
The intent of the law, officials said, is to serve as a deterrent, but that summer special officers would enforce the ordinance.
Moore said that discussions about a ban began last summer after a vigil was held on the beach for a 10-year-old boy who drowned in Long Beach last June, where mourners gathered on the shoreline and released balloons into the air. She added that members of the Surfrider Foundation Central Long Island Chapter and the city’s environmental advisory committee met with city officials last fall to discuss the measure.
“That caused us to say we need to have a conversation about balloons and educating people about the dangers of releasing balloons into the environment,” Moore said. “I thought it was important to us to move forward with this legislation because people don’t really understand that when you release the balloons, it seems wonderful, but it has a lasting impact on the environment. And those balloons return and can be eaten by sea animals — dolphins, sea turtles, you name it — and can cause death. This is a great way to … make a bold statement about our commitment to the environment.”
Council President Anthony Eramo said that city’s law to limit single-use plastic and paper bags has been very successful — and stronger than a bill recently passed by the State Legislature — with local environmentalists saying that the city has seen an 80 percent reduction in such bag use throughout Long Beach.
“I am very proud of the work we’ve done protecting our environment and we’re on the front lines of protecting our environment here on the barrier island,” Eramo said. “A lot of folks who come down and do these intentional releases, it’s very often in remembrance of a lost loved one. We all understand that and understand that pain. But to be able to do that maybe with flowers is a much better and beautiful f way to remember those that we have lost.”
Amanda Moore, co-chair of Surfrider, thanked the council for supporting the measure. She said the initiative received a positive response from people in town and hopes the ban catches on across Long Island.
“People didn’t know that it’s synonymous with littering,” she said. “Latex could biodegrade up to four years and Mylar balloons never will. We are finding this in the water in the thousands every time we do a cleanup, and getting this ordinance passed here will help us decrease the amount of balloons we’re finding in our environment and hopefully help us take this county and island wide.
Scott Bochner, a member of Operation SPLASH who sits on the city’s environmental advisory committee, said that over the past four years, Operation SPLASH volunteers collected 6,179 balloons from the Western Bays during cleanups.
“What people aren’t talking about is the ribbons that are on the balloons,” he said. “It’s sad to say that during almost every marsh cleanup that we do, we always find a dead animal that has been wrapped around this ribbon that is very strong. They get tangled up in it.”
East Hampton passed a ban on releasing balloon in February, a law that includes a $1,000 fine for violators or up to 15 days in jail.
“I don’t necessarily think that there are going to be a lot of fines written,” Eramo said. “I think it’s going to give the special officers the tools to be able to see someone down at the beach with 30, 40, 50 balloons that it’s illegal to release them and here’s why. Hopefully it’s going to be a deterrent.”
Councilwoman Moore said that she is looking forward to discussions about educating residents and visitors alike about the new law.
“I hope we will make education the priority,” she said. “I think that will help address the concern about enforcement.”