AUGUSTA — A bill that defines the intentional release of balloons as an act of littering passed the state Senate last week.
The bill, filed by Rep. Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington), was prompted by environmental concerns for when the released balloons eventually return to the ground – potentially harming sea life, polluting forests and clogging waterways.
The measure, which adds discarded balloons to the legal definition of litter and prohibits their intentional release, has been popular both with fisherman and conservation groups.
A lobsterman herself, McDonald previously said that balloons are one of the most common types of plastic fishermen see on the water.
People may not think about what happens after the release, but they are damaging the ocean and harming the livelihoods of those who work on the water, she said.
Other types of litter, including plastic bags, straws and other single-use plastic beverage bottles, are widely recognized as litter and resources have been committed to educate the public on how to reuse or dispose of them. Balloons have somehow evaded the same fate until now.
Maine Conservation Voters, a nonprofit organization, cheered on the bill, which also had the support of Maine Audubon and the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation.
“When balloons are released, they almost always find their way back down. And when they do, sea turtles mistake them for their staple jellyfish, whales can unknowingly ingest them as they feed, and birds can easily get tangled in the attached ribbons,” said Beth Ahearn, the director of governmental affairs at the MCV. “While it’s time to create new celebratory traditions, we are pleased by this step by the Maine Legislature to protect Maine’s wildlife and environment from balloons now.”