One State Just Banned Releasing Balloons Outdoors — Here's Why

There are dozens of seemingly strange state laws on the books across the country, but one law in [...]

There are dozens of seemingly strange state laws on the books across the country, but one law in Virginia is really popping balloons. On Thursday, a new law went into effect banning the intentional release of balloons outdoors. The reason is environmental, as reports have shown how damaging popped latex balloons can be at Virginia's beaches.

Those who violate the law could receive a fine of $25 per balloon, according to the Virginian Pilot. The money from the fines will go to Virginia's Game Protection Fund. Local environmental activists have been trying to get the law passed for years. A 2015 effort was ridiculed by one state senator who feared law enforcement would spend time on "undercover balloon sting" operations to enforce the law. That attempt failed in the Senate, 16-21. Six years later, the same senator, Bill Stanley, argued that officers would be "hiding around the bouncy house" to write tickets. However, the law that passed does say that if a person under 16 releases a balloon under an adult's instructions, the adult would be held responsible.

Activists pushed for the law because deflated balloons can be dangerous for animals. Some mistake balloons for food, especially sea turtles, since they breathe and eat where balloons float on the water. The Lynnhaven River Now, the Keep It Beachy Clean litter program, and the Virginia Aquarium urged Del. Nancy Guy to revive the effort to pass the law, which supersedes a previous law that allowed up to 49 balloons to be released at one moment.

Guy hopes the law will raise awareness of how dangerous deflated balloons can be to the environment. "I don't think people do these balloon releases out of malice; they do it out of ignorance about how dire these impacts can be," the Virginia Beach delegate told the Virginian Pilot. "By having a statute on the books that makes it subject to a fine, it's now possible for environmental groups to publicize that fact."

In 2019, the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center and Clean Virginia Waterways of Longwood University found the balloons and bottle caps were the most frequently found pieces of trash on the state's beaches, notes PEOPLE. "The results were stunning," Laura McKay of the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program said at the time. "On these relatively inaccessible beaches, over 15,000 debris items were found in the four small survey areas that ranged from .2 to .4 acres."

Although children commonly lose track of a balloon, adults usually release far more balloons at events like gender reveal parties or other events. Connecticut also banned large balloon releases. The local government in Southampton, New York, also banned the sale of helium balloons.