This is why a California beach town has banned balloons

This article originally appeared on Grist.

Celebrations in a California beach town can soon be without an iconic, one-use party favor: balloons.

The city council of Laguna Beach, about 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles, banned the sale and use of all types of balloons on Tuesday, citing their contribution to ocean trash as well as potential fire risks when they hit. they power lines. Starting in 2024, people using balloons on public property or at city events could incur fines of up to $500 for each violation. (Balloons used in private homes are exempt.)

The ban is part of a growing national movement to curb balloon use, as well as a broader segment-by-segment push to curb problematic single-use products such as straws and plastic bags. Currently, most state and city balloon-related legislation focuses only on the intentional release of helium-filled balloons, but experts say outright bans on outdoor use of any kind are gaining traction. people their environmental consequences better. Nantucket, Massachusetts, in 2016 banned any balloon filled with gas that is lighter than air, and there are similar bans in places like East Hampton, New York, and Solana Beach and Encinitas, California.

“Plastic is getting more attention in the ocean and in the environment in general,” Chad Nelsen, chief executive of the nonprofit environmental organization Surfrider Foundation, told Grist. “It’s good that people are looking at these single-use items that we used every day and not thinking about the consequences.” He said California beach cleanups organized by Surfrider in 2022 collected a total of nearly 2,500 balloons.

Balloons, especially those filled with helium, often pollute the ocean after a few hours of use. Marine animals and birds can be mistaken for latex — a soft, synthetic or natural material that can take decades to break down. When ingested, latex can stick to the stomach cavity of birds, causing nutritional deficiency or suffocation.

Balloons made of mylar, a type of plastic coated in thin metal, basically do not break down. “They literally live until the end of time,” said Kara Wiggin, a doctoral researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The plastic strings attached to them can suffocate marine life and then slip into microplastics that contaminate drinking water and the food chain.

Mylar balloons can also become entangled in power lines, causing power outages or fires. According to the city of Riverside, California, balloons caused more than 1,300 minutes of power outages for its publicly owned water and electric utility in 2021. Cities and other utilities report that thousands of ratepayers lose power each year when balloons get caught in lines power.

Wiggin said balloons are only a small part of society’s wider addiction to single-use items, but banning them is “low-hanging fruit”. “We don’t purposefully throw things into the environment, but we often do that with balloons,” she told Grist. “That’s a practice that needs to stop.”

Nelsen said there are many balloon-free ways to keep the fun going, including paper-based decorations, streamers, flags, kites, and pinwheels — many of which can be safely reused dozens of times. “We provide a way to celebrate children’s birthdays without killing marine life,” he said.

This article originally appeared in Grist. Grist is a non-profit, independent media organization dedicated to telling stories about climate solutions and a just future. More information at

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