My City Wants to Send Parents to Prison for 6 Months for Birthday Balloons: The Balloon Wars

“BAINBRIDGE ISLAND – City Councilman Michael Scott is looking to let the air out of balloons on Bainbridge Island…

The new ordinance would regulate balloons under the city’s litter control codes. Violations of those ordinances are misdemeanor infractions that can carry a maximum fine of $500 or jail time of up to six months.”

No doubt, trash can be very detrimental to the environment, and it is crucial for our conservation energies to be directed towards recycling, reusing, green energies and genuine biodegradable alternatives.

Recently my community banned plastic bags, and I think the ban on plastic bags was a fantastic move in the right direction for protecting the environment.  Similarly, I can see how reducing the amount of non-biodegradable balloons discarded every year would be a great boost not only in environmental recovery but also in awareness.

The problem that I have is the extremely dangerous measures for punishment the city council has tacked on to their environmental legislature. Issuing thousands of dollars in fines for balloons might be a deterrent for parents, but the punishment far exceeds reasonable measures.

Furthermore, issuing prison time for having a balloon in your house is clearly outrageous.

The fact is that although I can see how balloons might be perceived as useless…every single item in our grocery stores is covered in either cellophane or mylar. Pop tarts, granola bars, bags of chips, dog food, etc etc.

This is a picture of just a few items in the grocery store which uses the same non-biodegradable materials as balloons:

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Balloons are hardly even the beginning.

I applaud our island for continuing to place environmental conservation at the forefront of legislature, but threatening the citizens with prison time and hefty fines is now how you create awareness or institute changes.

There are better ways to do this, and I will be encouraging our city council to look at less aggressive and less threatening methods to promote conservation within our community.

  1. Environemental Impact

Goodness knows environmental conservation is important to all of us. We can clearly see how important protecting the environment is to us islanders by the fact that we continue to reduce our speed limits to 25mph in order to reduce emissions on the planet. Considering we have about 23,000 people on this island and at least 20,000 of them are old enough to drive…those numbers add up! Every little bit counts. However, if we want to put our impact into perspective, one large cargo ship in the Puget Sound as the ability, and does, generate approx 5,200 tonnes of sulphur oxide pollution in a year.  This means that 15 of the largest ships now emit as much SOx as the worlds 760 million cars. So that is significant. 

Furthermore, “a mid-size cruise ship’s diesel engine can use 150 tonnes of fuel each day, which would emit as much particulate as one million cars. “ I couldn’t summarize the number of cruises available in the Port of Seattle so I have a picture of the schedule:

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According to environmentwashington.org, “Too much of the trash comes from single-use plastic bags, which can choke, suffocate or kill thousands of whales, birds and other marine wildlife each year. We saw the effects of this last year when a beached gray whale was found in West Seattle with 20 plastic bags in its stomach.” Which is why the plastic bag ban was so progressive!

However, are there not still plastic bags in the produce section? Cellophane covering the meat in the meat department? Vacu-sealed foods on every single aisle of the grocery stores? And don’t get me started on the fact that we are encouraged to pick up our dog poop with plastic bags.

The point is that while every single little change matters, the fight against balloons is hardly the tip of the iceberg.

What the council is clearly missing is the progress we could be making together as a community, rather than issue prison time for families celebrating birthdays with balloons, or celebrating graduations, or encouraging a loved one in a hospital, or making balloon animals during our 4th of July parade.

What the council should be doing is leading our island towards environmental conservation by rallying the cause of the use of biodegradable balloons, rather than threaten their citizens with prison time and thousands of dollars in fines.

II) Balloons are not the beginning of the problem, and they are not the end of the problem.

Mylar:

We can clearly see that although our local grocery stores provide us with dolphin shaped mylar balloons, they also provide us with Pop Tarts, which are sealed in mylar packaging. The granola bars we send to school with our children is also wrapped in mylar. The aisles and aisles of chips we have lined in our grocery stores are also packaged with mylar. Beyond these very obvious uses of mylar, mylar is also used in drum heads, jibs for yachts, and it is used to preserve pharmaceutical products, seeds and tissue samples.

There is the issue of releasing mylar balloons, or mylar balloons escaping and getting caught in power lines and causing power outages. However, due to the innumerable power outages our island experiences due to falling trees, I can conclusively say that mylar balloons are not our biggest problem with our power system.

Death by balloons:

According to The Balloon Council, “Even one child’s accidental death from choking on a latex balloon is unacceptable. The balloon industry emphatically agrees and every retailer, distributor and manufacturer is committed to helping create widespread public awareness among consumers in an effort to eliminate these needless events.

There’s still a way to go, but thankfully there’s been improvement. A look at the Consumer Product Safety Commission records from 1973-1998, shows that the number of annual small child choking deaths caused by balloons reached a high of 17 in 1989, but by 1998 the number was 4.”

According to the CPSC, 17 children died in 2010 from toy related deaths. Although balloons were on the list, other items listed were tricycles, rubber balls, non motorized riding toys, toy boxes, stuffed animals, balls, and powered riding toys.

According to the CDC, the leading causes of death in children are accidents, congenital malformations, or assault. Also according to their figures, 2,626,418 people died in 2014, from causes ranging from heart disease, cancer, respritary diseases, and diabetes, to name a few. over 55,000 people died that year from influenza. As we can clearly see, balloons are not on the CDC radar as a factor for death.

III) Environmental impact on Orcas in the Puget Sound

  • According to orcanetwork.org, 42 orcas have been born and survived in the Puget sound between 1998 and 2017. 71 orcas have been killed in that time.
  • The environmental impact on orcas will continue to decline with the new trans mountain expansion project in British Columbia, “the project will increase traffic in coastal waters to about 350 tankers per year. According to the company, this accounts for roughly 6.6 percent of all large commercials vessels trading in the region.”
  • There is a significant decrease in salmon populations in the Puget Sound which are directly affecting the orca populations, but I don’t see Doc’s Marina Bar & Grill taking their salmon burger off the menu.
  • whalereasearch.com needs donations and volunteers to keep whales protected.
  • What conservationists need is funding, donations, volunteers, and greater awareness. What they don’t need are families spending time in jail or donating thousands of dollars to pay fines. These punishments are not helping awareness to latex and mylar alternatives, and the city council needs to go back to the drawing board and reframe their goals.

IV) Where to begin on shifting the conversation

Let’s understand what is real and what is not:

-Latex rubber and the balloons made from latex are naturally biodegradable. They will decompose on their own in about six months. Sunlight speeds up the process, but just like an old log rotting in the forest or the kitchen scraps in your compost pile, microorganisms and the air will eventually break latex rubber balloons down.

-A good example: Qualatex Biodegradable Helium Quality Balloons

Finally,

“I am expecting the Bainbridge community to be very supportive,” Scott wrote in an email to the Kitsap Sun.

Not so much, Michael Scott. You have a lot of work to do before we see eye to eye on this one.

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