Florida Rep. sponsors bill that would ban intentional release of balloons statewide

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Ever since Local 10 News launched our Don’t Trash our Treasure campaign, we’ve been telling you about all the damage caused by balloons released into our environment.

Now a state rep is taking bold action and is looking to ban all balloon releases in Florida, and the move is getting wide support.

“I’ve followed this issue of how balloons have impact our wildlife, particularly endangered sea turtles,” said Florida District 61 Rep. Linda Chaney “And when this bill was suggested to me, I said, ‘Yeah, that that’s a good idea. We need to do that. It’s time.’”

Republican State Rep. Linda Chaney from District 61, which covers the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, is sponsoring the new legislation. HB-91 would amend the current statute that right now allows the release of up to 10 balloons in a 24-hour period and exempts restricting balloons marketed as biodegradable.

Chaney’s new bill would now ban the intentional release of all balloons in Florida, including those labeled as eco-friendly.

“There’s really no such thing as a biodegradable balloon, especially because most of them have a string attached,” Chaney said. “And once you attach the string, that’s what really creates the problem.”

Sea birds are constantly getting tangled up in those strings, and have been known to eat the balloons, that get stuck in their digestive tracts and kill them.

Balloons are equally deadly for marine mammals and sea turtles who often confuse balloons for food.

“When these balloons end up in the ocean, especially latex balloons, when they pop and explode, they look and they smell a lot like jellyfish our endangered sea turtles are eating these balloons,” said Catherine Uden, South Florida field rep for Oceana, “There’s so much public support. Every time there’s a balloon release, people are upset, they’re angry, and they want something done about it. And finally, we have the opportunity.”

Oceana is just one of several conservation groups that have long been lobbying for stricter laws to prohibit the intentional release of balloons in Florida.

And in sponsoring this bill, Chaney has found a most unlikely ally in the form of Florida cattle ranchers who say the problem of balloon pollution has become so pervasive it’s killing their cows.

“A lot of balloons fall on their property and get eaten by their cows,” Chaney said. “I was told by one of my fellow House members who owns property that he had a pregnant cow ate a balloon, killed her and her calf.”

And it happens more frequently than you know. Local 10 News even reached out to an expert at the University of Florida who confirmed that when cows mistakenly eat balloons, they most likely will not survive.

“They cannot digest the balloon, so cows lose weight, they stop eating and if there is no intervention, the animals can end up dying,” said Dr. Joao Bittar, University of Florida Asst. Professor of Beef Cattle Veterinary Extension.

It’s a basic law of physics, what goes up must come down, even as far west as the Everglades, and so many of these floating time bombs end up in our waterways.

South Florida boaters constantly share images with Local 10 News’ Louis Aguirre of all the balloons they find in the ocean.

Careless boaters decorate their vessels with balloons that can easily detach in the wind and prove deadly for marine life.

Conservationists hope that this new bill, if passed, will send a strong message to all that balloons are just bad for the environment.

“I really feel that once we get the education out there, we’re going to move away from these intentional balloon releases and look at them more like littering events,” said Uden.

Added Chaney: “Your life will still be happy. If you can’t release balloons that are actually litter and harm our wildlife harm our environment, and really take a second thought about that, do you really need to release a balloon?”

Chaney is currently looking for a bill co-sponsor in the Florida Senate. If HB-91 passes it could take effect as early as July.

Here at Local 10 News, news management recently made the decision not to air any more balloon releases in any of our newscasts.

There are so many environmentally friendly ways to honor or memorialize a loved one: you can plant a tree or a garden of flowers or organize a beach clean-up. For a full list of ecofriendly alternatives to balloon releases, click here.

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.