Exactly one month ago — Tuesday, September 29th — the Montgomery County Council signed Bill 6-20 into law. The bill, introduced in February of this year by Councilmember Tom Hucker (District 5), will prohibit the intentional release of balloons within the county. Montgomery County is just one of a few others in the country to enact similar bans, including neighboring Queen Anne County and Wicomico County. 

Under the new legislation, any intentional balloon releases will be classified as a Class A civil violation, and responsible parties will be fined. The law excludes penalties for balloons that are released 1) accidentally, 2) by a minor without a guardian’s permission, or 3) for scientific and meteorological purposes. An additional component requires the county’s Department of Environmental Protection to educate residents about balloon releases and their consequences.

Mass balloon releases are popular activities for celebrations, but they’ve become a big concern for the health of marine ecosystems. When balloons are released outdoors, they eventually deflate and become litter that land in the natural environment, including our rivers, beaches, and oceans. Because most balloons are made up of non-biodegradable material (latex and mylar/foil) they can remain in our environment for years and harm marine life. Oftentimes, animals mistake balloon waste for food, which can result in intestinal blockage and death. A 2019 study on plastic ingestion and death correlation in seabirds by researchers at the University of Tasmania revealed that “balloon fragments… killed almost one in five of the seabirds that ingested them.” 

Ingestion by marine life is not the only cause for concern over balloon pollution; the ribbons attached to balloons can also entangle animals, which can contribute to further deaths. The adoption of Bill 6-20 is one step to ensuring the protection of our waterways and their wildlife. 

No matter where you live, we can all combat the negative consequences of balloon waste. Balloon Blow, a non-profit organization dedicated to balloon pollution education, has provided environmentally-friendly alternatives to balloons that are just as fun:

  • To decorate a space, use reusable banners, flags, ribbon dancers, or pinwheels.
  • Instead of holding a balloon release party, plant trees or gardens, blow bubbles, organize a clean-up, or light candles.

Bill 6-20 will be effective starting December 30th, 2020.  

Nikka De Mesa
Social Media Coordinator| Surfrider Foundation, DC Chapter