No Balloon Release Australia calls on the NSW Government to ban helium balloons in its Single-Use Plastics Plan in line with expert wildlife advice
Calls for action on helium filled balloons to be included in the NSW Single-Use Plastics Plan are being made after the NSW Government clearly disregarded scientific, AMDI and wildlife expert advice on the issue.
Spokesperson for No Balloon Release Australia, Karen Joynes, said there is incontrovertible evidence, both academic and anecdotal, that prove balloons kill wildlife, yet New South Wales still allows up to 19 balloons to be released. The Single-Use Plastics Plan should at least remove the Protection of the Environment Operations Amendment (Balloons) Act 2000 No 82.
“There are multiple research papers which show the deadly nature of balloons for wildlife, the reason they are included in the top three killers of marine wildlife, the other two being plastic bags and fishing gear” said the spokesperson. “Added to that is recent research which demonstrates balloons, even latex ones, are not ‘biodegradable’, meaning they hang around in the environment as litter for years, all the while posing a threat to wildlife” (1).
Dr Jenn Lavers from Adrift Lab notes “Much of the research into balloon degradation behaviour and impacts on wildlife comes from Australia’s own scientists. Furthermore, much of it is heavily-weighted towards species from NSW, such as Wedge-tailed Shearwaters” (2).
Just last month, Dr Lavers and her team from Adrift Lab removed a yellow balloon & clip from a deceased Flesh-footed Shearwater on Lord Howe Island, NSW (see photo).
“The bird ingested other plastic items also, but the balloon & clip were large and accounted for a significant quantity of the ingested plastics. Once exposed to digestive enzymes in the stomach, balloon latex turns into a sticky mess and likely causes a disproportionate amount of suffering for animals” explained Dr Lavers.
Further, front-line Wildlife carers attest to the impact that balloons have on turtles and seabirds, including shearwaters, penguins and petrels. Ironically, Minister Kean announced the Single-Use Plastics Policy at Shelly Beach where a number of turtles have been rescued, including one called Ella. She was recently in care with Australian Seabird Rescue Central Coast (ASR CC) during which she excreted a balloon and two metres of attached ribbon. After months in care, she was released back to her home at Shelly Beach. ASR CC’s Cathy Gilmore is also calling for action on helium filled balloons.
In addition, the Australian Marine Debris Initiative (AMDI) Database confirms balloons are regularly found in marine debris collections.
“They may not be as numerous as cigarette butts or drink containers, but balloons do have a disproportionately large impact on wildlife. Action is being taken on these items, and even on fruit stickers, yet there is no action to limit the effect of helium filled balloons” said Ms Joynes.
Plastic Free July’s Rebecca Prince-Ruiz adds ““I urge other jurisdictions, especially NSW, to include helium balloon releases in their Plastics Plan and follow the lead of Queensland where the release of balloons into the environment is considered littering under the Waste Reduction and Recycling Act 2011 and WA which has included helium balloon releases to be banned by 31 December 2021. We know releasing balloons into the environment is littering and there are plenty of alternative ways to mark and celebrate important occasions in our lives without harming our wildlife”
For the last 5 years, No Balloon Release Australia has presented the research and photographic evidence of the harmful impact caused by balloons to federal, state and territory governments.
“The NSW Environment Protection Agency has recognised the environmental damage resulting from releasing helium filled balloons (3) yet New South Wales still allows up to 19 balloons to be released. This is incomprehensible” added Ms Joynes.
Even in states where balloon releases are banned under Litter Acts, releases still occur. This shows that the use of helium for inflating balloons needs to be nationally regulated, to stop releases at the source.
“However, removing the “up to 19” balloon release allowance in the Protection of the Environment Operations Amendment (Balloons) Act 2000 No 82 in New South Wales would be a major step forward in protecting our environment” concluded Ms Joynes.
A petrel found with a pink balloon blocking its stomach, Far South Coast NSW.