Efforts Continue to Stop Illegal Balloon Releases Despite Virginia Law Banning Them | Government and politics

Balloon artist Shawnee “Gypsy” Williams doesn’t get many requests these days for balloon bouquets.

Williams, the owner of Richmond-based Artistic Balloon Bouquets, got them regularly and most often for funerals. Releasing the balloons into the sky was a symbolic last gesture for many people to honor a loved one they had lost.

“People will write a message on the balloon and send it to heaven,” Williams said recently by phone. But balloons were getting stuck in trees, or bursting and ending up in waterways, with their strings and ribbons, “so that’s a big litter problem.”

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Even before Virginia passed a law last July banning intentional balloon releases, Williams said she and her industry peers stopped offering bunches of balloons to customers who wanted to release them. She cited environmental concerns about foil balloons, which are not biodegradable, or latex, which is biodegradable but could take years to degrade. In addition, the strings or balloon ribbons tied around the bouquets – which are also not biodegradable – have often become waste and lead to the death of wild or marine animals that have consumed them.

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“The balloon industry around the world has worked hard to ensure that balloon artists don’t drop balloons at all,” Williams said. While requests for balloon bouquets for funerals or any other event are no longer common now, “when someone calls me for a balloon release, I don’t offer the [balloon bouquet] and I try to suggest something else.

Fines paid to the Game Protection Fund

Current Virginia law prohibits the intentional release or release of balloons made from non-biodegradable or non-photodegradable materials, or any material that requires contact with air or water for more than five minutes to degrade.

The law applies to anyone 16 and over and fines are $25 per ball. If a child under 16 releases a balloon under the direction of an adult, the adult is liable for the civil offence.

By law, fines are paid into the Game Protection Fund at the State Department of Wildlife Resources. DWR officials said as of last month, however, no funding for fines had been received since the law came into effect last year.

There are certain exceptions for balloon releases under the law, including balloons released by or on behalf of any state or U.S. agency or those authorized under contract for scientific or meteorological purposes, or hot air balloons recovered after the start.

Before last July, previous law capped balloon releases at 49 balloons in a one-hour period.

Those who have worked to educate the public about the harmful effects of dropped balloons say the current law was a long time coming.

“It’s a global problem”

Laura McKay is responsible for the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, a network of state agencies and coastal localities housed at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. She said the network has worked for years to educate people about the harmful environmental effects of balloon waste and to get lawmakers to listen.

For example, when balloons are blown through the atmosphere and burst, winds often carry the deflated remains over the ocean. They drop into the water and lose their colors, and when clear, they look like jellyfish — sea turtles’ favorite food sources, McKay said. She said efforts to monitor Virginia’s remote beaches revealed that the main objects found on the beaches are balloons – many of which had company logos or other identifiable logos that showed their origins were well there. inland, even as far as the American Midwest.

“It’s a global problem,” McKay said, but one that can be solved through education. She acknowledged that many people use balloons during sad events, which has been a challenge for their educational efforts.

“It was really hard to approach these pop-up balloon releases for sad events [because] you can’t find your audience,” McKay said, and ultimately, “you just don’t want to interrupt a really sad occasion and start berating them.

She said her network began to focus on promoting safe practices for happy events like weddings or charity functions, and then using those posts to encourage people to observe sad occasions safely.

Blowing bubbles or holding candles, planting a butterfly garden or setting up a birdbath in a special place, or dedicating a park bench or other permanent memorial, are just a few examples of how people can still honor their loved ones while respecting the environment, she said.

Efforts to curb the practice will continue, however, because the law can be difficult to enforce, said Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police and Foundation Inc., especially if people release balloons in private. or at funerals or public wakes.

“It will be a problem between mourning or celebrating members of the community [and] conservationists and animal protectors who see the risks balloon waste poses, especially to wildlife,” Schrad said, and it’s similar to litter enforcement — “unless you catch someone in flagrante delicto is a difficult law to enforce.

That, and “a $25 civil fine is not much of a deterrent,” Schrad added.

For communities with limited police resources and officers, “enforcement of this law will not be a priority for public safety,” she said. But the law “creates an opportunity to educate the public that intentional balloon releases are prohibited as a means of protecting the environment.”

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