East Hampton Moves to Ban Balloon Releases

Environmental groups have urged town officials to ban intentional releasing of balloons because of the risk it poses to marine and wildlife. Jane Bimson

The East Hampton Town Board is moving forward on enacting a ban on the intentional release of balloons, citing hazards to wildlife, particularly marine life. 

NancyLynn Thiele, an assistant town attorney, read draft legislation to the town board at its work session on Tuesday, which she said was in response to the urging of environmental groups to take action. “No person shall intentionally release or dispose of any balloon except in public receptacles and authorized private receptacles, or designated areas within Town of East Hampton recycling centers,” she read. “You have to properly dispose of your balloons.” Weather balloons, hot air balloons, balloons released indoors, and accidental release, by a child, for example, will be exempted, she said. Penalties for violating the proposed legislation would match those for littering. 

The legislation is to be introduced at the board’s meeting tonight. A public hearing will be scheduled for next month. 

Suffolk County allows the intentional release of up to 25 balloons in a 24-hour span, and they are a popular accessory at celebrations such as weddings, birthday parties, and graduations, as well as at real estate firms’ open-house events. The legislation would compel those holding a wedding on the beach to remove any balloons at the event’s conclusion. “They can’t just cut them and walk away,” Ms. Thiele said. 

Earlier in the work session, Susan McGraw Keber, a town trustee, had delivered a presentation to the board urging a ban on intentional release. Included in the presentation were photos of birds and marine life entangled in balloon strings, which can injure or strangle them, as well as plastic and other debris that fouls the oceans. 

Last year, Ms. McGraw Keber, who serves on the trustees’ education committee, designed a “balloon fish,” an illustration made of balloons found on town beaches. The trustees print and sell T-shirts bearing the illustration, proceeds from which benefit its William T. Rysam Fund, a scholarship fund for students heading to college. 

She said she was thrilled that the town was moving ahead on the ban. “The balloon industry,” she said, “will say latex and Mylar are biodegradable. They are not.” 

“Even balloons marketed as biodegra­dable or ‘eco-friendly’ can still take years to disintegrate,” according to the online platform One Green Planet. “When balloons make their way into the water, their tattered ends and floating pieces can resemble jellyfish or other sea life consumed by marine animals such as sea turtles, fish, and dolphins.” Pieces of latex or Mylar, mistaken for food and ingested, can get lodged in the digestive tract, inhibiting animals’ ability to eat and causing a slow and painful death by starvation, according to One Green Planet. 

Along with the trustees, the Surfrider Foundation’s Eastern Long Island chapter supports the proposed legislation, Ms. McGraw Keber said.

Proving that an individual or group is violating the law may be difficult, the board agreed. Ms. Thiele suggested that photographic evidence, or a note tied to a balloon’s string, could demonstrate intent. But “the intent here is to discourage,” Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said. “Sending the message is really important. Hopefully we don’t have to get to the point where we’re actually needing to enforce this. Hopefully we can reverse the trend. I don’t know that this happens a lot in our township anyway, but we certainly don’t want it happening at all.” 

“I probably pick up 10 every time I walk the beach,” Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said.