From left, Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Cynthia A. Coyne, Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski, Gov. Daniel McKee, House Speaker K. Shekarchi, Rep. Susan Donovan and House Majority Leader Christopher R. Blazejewski.
STATE HOUSE – Legislation sponsored by Rep. Susan R. Donovan and Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski was ceremonially signed into law yesterday to protect the environment and wildlife by prohibiting the intentional release of large groups of balloons.
The legislation, which Gov. Daniel McKee signed in a ceremony with the sponsors, would ban intentional, simultaneous releases of 10 or more balloons into the air, beginning Nov. 1.
All released balloons, including those falsely marketed as biodegradable, end up as litter on waterways and landscapes. Animals, attracted by their vibrant colors and shapes, mistake them for food, causing injury or death to countless sea and land creatures each year. Balloons are also a nuisance to commercial fishermen and can even cause power outages when they tangle with power lines.
“Balloons may conjure up sweet images of childhood innocence, and the sight of them rising into the sky may seem wondrous and beautiful. But what goes up must come down, and when balloons come down, they become a particularly insidious kind of litter. They often end up in the water, and are among the types of plastic litter that kill and painfully maim fish, birds and other wildlife,” said Representative Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth). “Releasing balloons is harmful. While I’m grateful that these events have become rarer in recent years as awareness of their impact has spread, they should be made illegal to ensure that they become a thing of the past. Dumping hazardous plastic into the environment is not a suitable celebration of anything in 2021.”
Said Senator Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), “Rhode Island’s identity, much of our economy and our lifestyle are so dependent upon a healthy ocean. Releasing balloons in the Ocean State – where 21 of the 39 cities and towns are coastal – is just not in line with way of life or our efforts to improve our environment. Releasing balloons is littering and endangering animals, and it should not be tolerated in Rhode Island.”
The bill (2021-H 5376A, 2021-S 0038A) provides exceptions for scientific or meteorological balloon launches with government permission, hot air balloon launches and indoor releases. It applies only to intentional release, not accidental release. Each violation would be punishable by a fine of $100 for a first offense and $250 for subsequent ones.
According to Save The Bay, the plastic remains of 503 balloons were found along Rhode Island’s shoreline during the September 2019 International Coastal Cleanup.
The bill has widespread support from environmental groups across Rhode Island and fishermen’s associations. In 2018, the New Shoreham Town Council passed an ordinance banning the sale of balloons on Block Island as a means of addressing this issue. (The law signed yesterday does not prohibit balloon sales, only the outdoor release of balloons.)
Representative Donovan, an avid kayaker who represents a coastal district, has witnessed firsthand the danger balloons pose to animals. A few years ago, while kayaking on the Sakonnet River off Portsmouth with a friend, she encountered a seagull entangled in the string of a balloon. She captured the gull, which was injured and suffering, and used some nail clippers she had with her to free it from the string.