Senator Carson, Representative Tucker, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, my name is Sarah Lakeman and I am the Sustainable Maine Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). I appreciate this opportunity to speak to you in support of LD 937, which is one of several important bills up for consideration this session that would prevent plastic pollution and litter in Maine.
This bill is focused on the specific issue of intentional balloon releases that result in littering our environment that is entirely preventable. This bill would simply: 1) Amend an existing law to explicitly classify balloons as litter in order to prevent the intentional release or abandonment of balloons, including planned mass balloon releases; and 2) Require that balloon retailers warn customers of the choking, allergy, and environmental risks of balloons.
The last time the Legislature took up the issue of mass balloon releases was in 1991, when a dead whale washed up with balloons in its stomach and the outcry of Maine children inspired the legislation. That simple bill, which made the intentional release of helium-filled balloon a civil violation, was voted ought-not-to-pass because of balloon industry pressure and false claims about the biodegradability of latex balloons. The truth is that a latex balloon, or any other balloon type, does not instantly degrade in the environment, especially in seawater. Unfortunately the failure of the 115th Maine Legislature to curb mass balloon release events means that they have been perceived to be OK, and continued over the past 30 years, resulting in countless balloons landing across the state and in ocean waters. NRCM believes it’s important to pass LD 937 to set the record straight. The public needs to know that letting a balloon go is littering, and releasing a balloon into the environment should be prohibited just like other types of waste.
Mass balloon releases happen regularly in Maine, in rural and urban areas, primarily with plastic ribbons attached. Often, these balloon releases have been planned as a way to honor a loved one who struggled or lost their life. Unfortunately, the releases result in a littering of our land and water, which presumably wasn’t the intent of the event organizers. There are many alternative events that could honor a loved one, including planting trees or gardens, a litter clean-up, floating flowers, dedicating a park bench, or lighting candles.
The simple fact that Maine’s mass balloon releases happen frequently, often involve law enforcement, have positive coverage by the media, and don’t result in public outcry is proof enough that we need more education on the dangers that balloons pose. This is why NRCM supports the outreach component of this bill; where the retailers would not be required to do any more than what The Balloon Council promotes through their Responsible Balloon Retailer Program. Here are some startling balloon facts that we believe should get more attention so that people become more responsible with their use of balloons:
- Balloons cause more deaths in seabirds than any other kind of marine debris. Researchers found that balloons are 32 times more likely to result in death in seabirds than ingesting hard plastic. Here is a quote from an author of that report: “The evidence is clear that if we want to stop seabirds from dying from plastic ingestion we need to reduce or remove marine debris from their environment, particularly balloons.”
- Balloons have been the most-recorded debris item floating in Jeffrey’s Ledge Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Maine for at least 11 years; which is a critically important habitat for the endangered Right Whale.In 2015-16 researchers at the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation in Portsmouth, NH, found 700 balloons in the Gulf of Maine. Further, balloons are the 15th most commonly littered item found in clean-ups across the U.S.
NRCM urges you to vote in favor of LD 937 so that Maine can join other environmentally minded jurisdictions that have recognized that balloons released into the environment are indeed a harmful form of litter. Thank you for your time and consideration of this common-sense legislation, and I would be happy to answer any questions that you have.
 The Balloon Council presented a highly misleading study authored by D.K Burchette in 1989 that convinced some lawmakers that balloons were as biodegradable as an oak leaf; but they didn’t mention that an oak leaf takes at least four years to degrade, that the study was not peer-reviewed, or that the wife of the author of the report owned a balloon store.
Source: Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Department of Commerce. September 1988. See page 38. https://www.afsc.noaa.gov/Publications/ProcRpt/PR1988-19.pdf
 See a sample of an educational poster provided by The Balloon Council attached to this testimony.
Journal of Scientific Reports: Balloons the No. 1 marine debris risk of mortality for seabirds University of Tasmania, March 1, 2019 https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-03/uot-bt022719.php
 Marine Mammal Science, published August 2006. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1748-7692.2000.tb00928.x
 States and cities with balloon release laws include: California; Connecticut; Florida; Tennessee; Virginia; Ocean City, Maryland; Louisville, Kentucky; Nantucket, Massachusetts; Provincetown, Massachusetts; Block Island, Rhode Island.