The Southampton Town Board last month joined East Hampton Town when it banned the intentional release of balloons.
It’s not that local officials are a bunch of killjoys, eager to stamp out fun at birthdays or other parties. Instead, after many years, they have finally heeded the calls of environmentalists who have long warned that the plastic material used to make balloons, which often ends up in the ocean, is frequently mistaken by marine animals for food, with deadly results. Banning their intentional release is a no-brainer to anyone concerned with proper stewardship of the Earth.
But that begs the question of what to do with unintentional releases? Who hasn’t seen a joyful child let go of a helium balloon only to be reduced to tears when she discovers it’s not coming back? And what about yard sales and real estate open houses, where brightly colored balloons are often tied to signs to attract attention? Sometimes they break loose and float away as well.
Although Southampton’s new law calls for fines ranging from $350 to $750 or up to two weeks in jail for violators, it seems doubtful that anyone is going to find themselves behind bars for letting go of a balloon any time soon.
Instead, the town’s goal is to educate the public and encourage them to be mindful of the impact balloons can have and to dispose of them properly when done with them.
Short of an outright ban on the sale or possession of balloons, it seems little else can be done, although prohibiting the outdoor display of balloons for open houses and yard sales would not seem to be too onerous a burden.
Not long ago, people complained that it would be an inconvenience to do their grocery shopping if plastic bags were banned, but today, just about everybody carries reusable bags when they shop. Drastically cutting back on the use of balloons should be an even easier goal to achieve. And the sea creatures will thank you.