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Encinitas may ban helium-filled balloons

balloon pic.jpg
Posted at 5:17 PM, Jan 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-18 20:26:58-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Encinitas could become the county's first city to ban balloons with helium and other gases that make them float away.

On Wednesday, the City Council will consider an ordinance to make it illegal to use, sell or distribute balloons with gases that are lighter than air. The city referenced a NOAA report that says "every balloon released during well-meaning celebrations returns to earth as trash, with grave potential to injure or kill wildlife." NOAA included a picture of a sea turtle with its neck caught in balloon ribbons, which were tied to a stick.

Mark O'Connor, an Encinitas resident and member of the Surfrider Foundation, is one of the proponents of the ban. Over the last few years, he's filled a plastic jar with remnants of Mylar and latex balloons picked up from local beaches.

"They use helium, which is a finite resource that should be used for MRIs, and research and cancer and things, and not a four-year-old's birthday party," O'Connor said.

Under the ordinance, retailers could still sell the same balloons but would have to do so with air, so they don't fly away. Still, it is not without opposition. An organization called The Balloon Council says the measure will cause hardship to businesses struggling to make it out of the pandemic.

"Focusing on educating consumers at the point of purchase to change behavior is the quickest way to teach proper use and disposal of balloons, prevent balloon releases and reduce the chances of balloons becoming litter. Encinitas needs education -- not legislation," the organization said in a statement.

The council noted current California laws requiring weights on Mylar balloons, but O'Connor said they obviously aren't working, given the amount he said he finds on the beach.

The California Retailers Association submitted a letter calling for restricting balloons on beaches but not an outright ban.

Retailers recognize the importance of environmental issues and are launching recycling programs to ensure balloons are disposed of responsibly. Many retailers are including responsible balloon usage education at the point-of-sale through balloon care cards," the association said in its letter.

If passed, helium-filled balloons would join plastic straws, Styrofoam food containers, and gas powered leaf blowers as some of the banned items in Encinitas.

The ordinance would not apply to hot-air balloons or those used for scientific research.