AUGUSTA — The fight to define intentional balloon releases as an act of littering took a step forward this week.
The Maine House gave its approval to the proposed prohibition bill, which was filed by state Rep. Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington).
The goal was to address an issue that fishermen have wrestled with under the radar for years, according to a statement from House Democrats.
“Discarded balloons are one of the most common types of plastic that we see on the water,” said McDonald. “People may not realize they are littering, damaging ocean life and harming our livelihoods, but that’s exactly what is happening. I’m grateful my colleagues agree it’s time to define intentional balloon releases as an act of littering so that people know how they are affecting Maine fishermen and the marine ecosystem.”
Data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that animals can mistake balloons for food, possibly causing them to choke or get tangled in the string or ribbon attached to the balloon.
The bill passed in the House by a vote of 83-64 and will now move on to the Senate.
Several environmental groups have cheered on the bill.
Plastic bags, straws and other single-use plastic beverage accessories are widely recognized as litter and resources are committed to educate the public on how to reuse or dispose of them.
“Balloons, however, though equally or more harmful to wildlife, are not widely recognized as litter,” said Allison Briggs with Maine Audubon in her testimony in favor of the bill earlier this spring. “Balloons are regularly released into the environment, either in celebration or memory, or deliberately abandoned. Few people make the connection that the balloon they release into the air will later return to earth, despoiling our environment.”