Party people, take note: you can’t release balloons for celebrations in Maine anymore.
The Maine Legislature recently passed the bill LD 618, which banned the intentional mass release of balloons, due to the impact balloons have on the environment. Gov. Janet Mills allowed the bill to be enacted without signing.
Under the new law, first-time offenders who knowingly release between 16 and 24 balloons would be fined between $100 and $500, and anyone who releases more than 24 balloons would face a fine of at least $500. The law does not punish the accidental release of a balloon or the release of balloons for scientific or meteorological purposes.
The law aims to prevent situations where Maine wildlife mistake balloons for food, which can be fatal.
“Balloons don’t go to heaven — they come down, and they might kill seabirds,” said Democratic Rep. Genevieve McDonald of Stonington, who sponsored the bill. “We need to find more environmentally friendly ways to celebrate.”
Released balloons have also affected some of Maine’s most important industries, like fisheries and farms.
“I’m a commercial fisherman out of Stonington, and balloons are a common piece of trash that myself and other fishermen find out on the ocean,” McDonald said. “I’ve seen a lot of photos and heard a lot of complaints from fishermen over the years, so something needed to be done.”
The new law will affect the way that some Mainers celebrate big events.
Katherine Jameson, a wedding planner based in Portland, said that while she has “at least one or two [clients] a year” that would like to release balloons at their wedding. However, she thinks there are more meaningful and creative ways to celebrate life’s milestones.
“I have never had a client say to me, ‘Oh, we grew up with balloons, we love balloons, I always dreamed of releasing a balloon,’” Jameson said. “It seems like an empty thing.”
Still, if you are looking for the colorful, showy display of a balloon release, there are still ways to celebrate with a similar feeling.
“People enjoy releasing something,” McDonald said. “You want to see something go into the sky. One of the things that I am excited about is flying wish paper. It’s similar to tissue paper, you light it on fire, it slides up into the sky. It quickly extinguishes so it doesn’t pose a fire hazard like lanterns that travel long distances.”
Jameson also suggested flying a kite — or several — as part of your big celebration. For weddings, she has even flown customized kites, where the couple paints the kites or personalizes them with the wedding date and location.
Other options Jameson suggested include tossing bird seed or flower petals, or having guests blow bubbles with eco-friendly soap using biodegradable wands.
Just be sure that wherever the event is held, you check on local restrictions. Jameson hosts events at Acadia National Park, for example, which has strict environmental protection rules.
If you still want balloons at your events without releasing them, there are more environmentally friendly ways to do so.
“Don’t inflate them with helium for one,” McDonald said. “Tie them to something. When the event is over, pop them and dispose of them properly.”
But don’t be lulled into thinking that a balloon labeled biodegradable is a lot better than others.
“While they may degrade eventually, it can take many many years for balloons marked biodegradable to actually do so,” McDonald said. “I think that’s misleading advertising that lead people to believe that the product they buy is safe for the environment when it is not.”
Jameson thinks that overall, though, the new law won’t hamper people’s plans too much. She said that clients have been looking for more eco-friendly practices for their weddings, anyway.
“People are more into what is natural more so now than ever before,” Jameson said. “In the past five years, it has really ramped up. I don’t think they’re going to be fazed one way or another, especially if they can find alternatives that are meaningful.”