Up, up and not OK: Letting go of balloons could soon be illegal in Florida

In 2021, a birthday balloon drifts in the waters off Jamaica Bay, New York. (Tony Cenicola/The New York Times)

Balloons released in the sky don’t go to heaven. They often end up in oceans and waterways, where they’re 32 times more likely to kill seabirds than other types of plastic debris. Despite this, humans like to release them en masse, be it to celebrate a loved one’s life or a wedding, or to reveal the gender of a baby.

The practice is on the verge of becoming illegal in Florida, where the Legislature has joined a growing number of states to ban the intentional release of balloons outdoors. The Florida ban is expected to be signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and would take effect July 1.


Florida is at the forefront of a dizzying and contentious array of statewide bans, outlawing lab grown meat, certain books from school libraries and classrooms, and most abortions after six weeks. But the balloon ban is rare for garnering widespread bipartisan support. It was championed by environmentalists and sponsored by two Republican lawmakers from the Tampa Bay area, state Rep. Linda Chaney and state Sen. Nick DiCeglie.

“Balloons contribute to the increase in microplastic pollution which is harmful to every living thing including humans, polluting our air and drinking water,” Chaney wrote in an email.

“My hope is that this bill changes the culture, making people more aware of litter in general, including balloons,” she said.

Chaney said she first heard about the perils of balloon debris in 2020. Aquatic animals often mistake balloons for jellyfish and feel full after eating them, essentially starving from the inside out. Ribbons affixed to balloons entangle turtles and manatees. Balloons also pose a threat to land animals. In her research, Chaney learned about a pregnant cow that died after ingesting a balloon while grazing. The unborn calf died too.

The bill closes a loophole in an existing Florida law that allowed for the outdoor release of up to nine balloons per person in any 24-hour period, a provision that critics say didn’t achieve the goal of reducing marine trash.

The new legislation makes it clear that balloons can pose an environmental hazard, supporters say. It equates intentionally releasing a balloon filled with a gas lighter than air with littering, a noncriminal offense that carries a fine of $150. The ban also applies to outdoor releases of any balloons described by manufacturers as biodegradable.

The ban does not restrict the sale of balloons by party suppliers or manufacturers; they could still be used indoors or as decorations outdoors if properly secured.

Balloons released by a government agency or for government sanctioned scientific purposes would be exempt from the new law. Hot air balloons recovered after launch or balloons released by children age 6 and younger would also be exempt.

The bill counts among its supporters the Florida Retail Association as well as the Coalition for Responsible Celebration, a trade association for balloon distributors and party stores.

The legislation marks a win for environmentalists hamstrung by Florida legislation known as the “ban on bans,” which prohibits counties and local municipalities from regulating single use plastics and plastic bags.

According to Emma Haydocy, Florida policy manager for the Surfrider Foundation, seven other states have cracked down on outdoor balloon releases. And just last week, lawmakers in North Carolina filed their version of the Florida legislation.

In lieu of releasing balloons, conservationists are urging people to instead plant a tree or toss flower petals into the water.

“There are so many other ways of celebrating that are not detrimental,” Haydocy said.

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