Balloon washed up on a beach

The Rhode Island General Assembly today approved legislation sponsored by Representative Susan Donovan and Senator Susan Sosnowski to protect the environment and wildlife by prohibiting the intentional release of large groups of balloons.

The legislation, which now goes to the governor, would ban intentional, simultaneous releases of 10 or more balloons into the air.

“All released balloons, including those falsely marketed as biodegradable, end up as litter on waterways and landscapes,” a press release sent from the General Assembly on behalf of the legislators’ states. “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) in a statement. “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 5376Aaa2021-S 0038Aaa) 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. The bill would take effect Nov. 1.

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.

According to the General Assembly, 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 bill passed today would not prohibit balloon sales, only the outdoor release of balloons.

Representative Donovan, an avid kayaker, said she 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.

Ryan Belmore is the Owner and Publisher of What'sUpNewp. 
Belmore has been involved with What’sUpNewp since shortly after its launch in 2012, proudly leading it to be named Best Local News Blog in Rhode Island by Rhode Island Monthly readers in 2018, 2019, and 2020 and an honorable mention in the Common Good Awards in 2021.

Born and raised in Rhode Island, Belmore graduated from Coventry High School and the Community College of Rhode Island. In addition to living in Newport for 10 years, he has lived in Portsmouth, Coventry, Providence, Smithfield, Burrillville, and East Greenwich.

Belmore currently serves as Vice President of the Board Of Directors for Fort Adams Trust and on the Board of Directors for Potter League For Animals. He previously served on the Board of Lucy's Hearth and the Arts & Cultural Alliance for Newport County.

Belmore and his wife, Jen, currently live in Alexandria, Virginia, a move they made in 2021. Read more about that here - https://whatsupnewp.com/2021/09/letter-from-the-publisher-some-personal-news/

Belmore visits Newport every couple of weeks to support the 12+ paid contributors What'sUpNewp has on the ground across Rhode Island, a place he called home for 39 years.

Belmore is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers, Society of Professional Journalists, and the North American Snowsports Journalists Association.

In 2020, Belmore was named Member of the Year by LION and won the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Newport County's Dominque Award.
Belmore can be contacted at ryan@whatsupnewp.com and 401-662-1653.