ENCINITAS — A ban on helium balloons will soon be put in front of the Encinitas City Council after the city’s Environmental Commission voted unanimously to adopt a resolution banning the sale, use and release of such lighter-than-air balloons.
Encinitas would not be the first city in California to adopt such a ban with cities such as Glendale, Hermosa Beach and Malibu all having similar ordinances, but it would be the first city in San Diego County to take such an environmental step.
“When (helium balloons) are released at celebrations or by accident, people don’t really think about what’s going to happen to them,” Commissioner June Honsberger said. “But they float up into the atmosphere and they do not disappear. They come back down to Earth and they get caught in trees, end up in our oceans and are mistaken for food by animals.”
When balloons return back to the ground, they eventually decompose into microplastics which are then ingested by wildlife. The balloon ribbons can also become tangled around unsuspecting animals and become deadly.
Locally, San Diego County is home to a population of federally protected pacific green sea turtles which can easily become entangled in remains of helium balloons or even mistake them for jellyfish.
“Jellyfish is their preferred prey and so balloon litter has a high likelihood of negatively impacting these already imperiled species,” Commissioner Katie Cramer said.
The commission found at least eight businesses that sell helium balloons, including a Party City which relies on sales of those balloons for 20% of their business according to information given to the commission.
However, the commission says that due to recent shortages in helium, which itself is a finite resource, some retailers and designers have already begun turning to more creative uses of regular air balloons to give an effect of being helium-filled.
“So we feel that increased sales of these air-only filled balloon designs can offset the loss of revenue from lighter-than-air balloon sales,” Honsberger said. “And also provide the public with a viable alternative to celebrate their event.”
This proposed ordinance would not affect balloons that were filled with regular air nor would affect any scientific or weather balloons or hot air balloons.
“Although we realize that plastics will be around for a while longer and they will continue to accumulate in the oceans, unfortunately, and in the air and in our water, let’s try to curb plastic pollution where we can,” Cramer said.
According to the commission, helium balloons have also accounted for 500 power outages across San Diego over the past five years. Southern California Edison counted over 1,000 power outages in 2019 alone that were caused by mylar balloons.
Over a week’s time in May of last year, when families were releasing balloons as part of graduation celebrations, SDG&E says that over 3,800 customers were directly affected by power outages caused by mylar balloons.
“Mylar balloons have a metallic coating that conducts electricity. And when it comes in contact with high-voltage power wires it can melt the wires, it can interrupt electric service and it can start fires,” Honsberger said.
The public support for the resolution was strong with the commission’s secretary adding they received over 150 emails in support of the proposal.