Article by: Karen Joynes from No Balloon Release Australia.
A bunch of four helium-filled balloons was released from an event in Western Sydney in early July. By August 2nd, they had travelled 800 kilometres to litter a beach at Lord Howe Island, a World Heritage Area.
Three weeks later, No Balloon Release Australia has had no response from representations made to the NSW EPA or from NSW and Federal Ministers for the Environment.
No Balloon Release Australia was conceived in 2016 to promote a petition for a national ban on the release of balloons and the use of helium to inflate balloons. It connects the many individuals and groups around the country advocating for no helium balloon releases.
The environmental impact of balloons is no longer doubted. They are considered one of three major threats to marine wildlife by CSIRO, and were mentioned in the Draft Threat Abatement Plan into the impact of marine debris on vertebrate marine life (TAP).
The formal petition, presented to the House of Representatives earlier this year, elicited a less than satisfactory response from Minister Frydenberg. He referred to the TAP and refocusing anti-litter campaigns but did not address the petition’s request.
The same petition on Change.org has nearly 7,000 signatures, yet there has been no further response.
State and Territory Ministers say education is the key to reducing marine plastic pollution and litter, and that they are developing policies and plans. No mention of when these will be implemented, or how.
In the meantime, it is up to volunteers and groups such as Tangaroa Blue and Zoos Victoria to educate the public about the problems arising from the release of helium balloons.
In the case of the Lord Howe Island balloons, the event organisers were very apologetic when alerted by Tangaroa Blue, and vowed to revise their balloon release policy.
Others become aggressive and defensive when asked to not release balloons, especially when emotions are high due to bereavement.
Businesses using promotional balloons put their bottom line first, while rescuers and carers pick up the cost of saving and rehabilitating animals and birds harmed by balloons.
Laws regarding balloons vary around the nation. NSW limits releases to “up to 20” saying this allows a “balance” between environmental protection and the community’s wish to celebrate.
When just one balloon can kill wildlife or farm animals, where does the “balance” lie?
What is to celebrate when it causes the needless death of an animal?
Queensland and Victorian governments maintain, while not specified, balloon releases are covered under their litter laws. The number of balloon releases in these states indicate many people are unaware or don’t care about litter laws.
Prosecutions apparently occur rarely, if at all.
Under NSW law, the Lord Howe Island bunch of 4 balloons was legal, unless there were additional releases of bunches of 4 balloons. Who knows how many were released, and where they ended up?
Fellow campaigner, Lisa Jane Hills, was instrumental in encouraging the West Australian Greens to include balloons in their draft bill to reduce marine plastic pollutants.
“Accidental” releases are excused from any laws, and the easy availability of helium ensures accidental releases occur all too often. Helium, a rare gas, should be conserved for more useful purposes such a cooling magnets on MRI machines.
Another campaigner, Amy Motherwell, has had promising responses from local governments around the nation. It is this level of government that deals with the litter resulting from helium balloon releases. The entire NSW South Coast now has bans on the release of helium balloons at council events and on council managed land.
The people and groups who are passionate about the need to ban the frivolous release of helium balloons are those who deal with their impacts on a daily basis. The wildlife and animal rescuers and carers, and the marine debris collectors. Tangaroa Blue, Boomerang Alliance, Australian Seabird Rescue, Lord Howe Island Museum, Australian Platypus Conservancy and Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre all support our petition.
It is a shame the Ministers for the Environment and their bureaucracies don’t seem to share the same passion for our natural environment and ocean.
The fact that helium balloons travel over large distances across state and local government boundaries means a national ban is required to ensure there are no balloon releases, including “accidental” releases. A ban on the use and unregulated sale of helium to the general public is needed.
Marine plastic pollution comes from a wide variety of sources and controlling them is complex. However, the control of one form of marine pollution, balloons, is straightforward.
Why won’t politicians take the simple step to nationally ban the release of balloons and the use of helium to inflate balloons?