How Hard Will NJ Crack Down on Outdoor Balloon Use?
Dozens of New Jersey municipalities already have a rule on the books that bans the intentional release of balloons into the sky.
Some officials and advocates want to see that rule go statewide.
"They might look pretty going up, to some people. But they're actually littering. It's just going up before it comes down," said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, a nonprofit based in Long Branch.
Zipf said the released balloons are not only a threat to marine life once they pop and head back toward the ground; they also have been known to get tangled up in power lines.
"We really do need to get some strong legislation in place, and to also help change public awareness," she said.
A bill in the New Jersey Legislature attaches penalties, including community service, to the unlawful release of balloons into the atmosphere. It also faults the person or entity that organizes a mass balloon release.
The legislation has not seen any movement since its introduction in November.
Clean Ocean Action's model ordinance for towns goes further than targeting just the release of balloons. It also calls for a prohibition on leaving tethered balloons unattended outdoors.
According to New Jersey Clean Communities, 30 municipalities had ordinances in place as of May 2022. Within those ordinances, fines range from $100 to $500.
Mass balloon releases are prohibited in a handful of states.
The number of balloons collected by volunteers during Clean Ocean Action's Beach Sweeps events dropped significantly in 2022 compared to 2021 (down from 5,234 to 2,949).
The Balloon Council, based in Trenton, prefers education about balloon releases over legislation. It has worked to defeat anti-balloon legislation in several states and communities.
"While we do know that animals occasionally eat these soft slivers of rubber, the evidence indicates that pieces ultimately pass through the digestive system without harming the animal," the Council says on its website, noting that latex balloons are biodegradable.