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'We should do better': Essex councillor hopes to ban intentional balloon releases


An Essex councillor hopes a potential by-law prohibiting the release of latex and Mylar helium balloons will inspire residents to think of environmentally friendly ways to mark milestones or memorialize.

Kim VerBeek brought forward a notice of motion during the March 18 meeting of council, with an administrative report expected back Tuesday night.

“People do it for celebration, for acts of memorials, but I mean, now we've learned how harmful it can be so once we learn better, we should do better,” said VerBeek.

VerBeek said that there are many dangers associated with releasing balloons into the air for wildlife, pets, and the environment, noting a growing number of communities in Canada and the U.S. already have regulations in place.

“Through strangulation and through ingestion, family pets, wildlife, livestock, marine life, birds get tangled in the strings or they will actually eat the rubber, the Mylar,” VerBeek explained.

She continued, “My hope is that getting this conversation rolling will also help us to share ideas of other ways to celebrate and to memorialize our loved ones or events with gardens, plants, trees, and let's get some conversation rolling and share suggestions.”

VerBeek said, “I know a lot of communities in Canada and the U.S. have already put total bans on. Some of the cities have put smaller bans with a limit of no more than 10 balloons and such. I'm hoping that our administration will bring back a report with a total bid for a potential total ban.”

“Very seldom a week goes by, every couple of days we’re picking them out of the ditches and out of the fields,” she said.

VerBeek added, “My concern about our waterways and our Great Lakes is at the root of this, to be honest. These things and all the other plastics and litter, when the water rises, they just get washed into our ditches, in our creeks and they find their way out through the drainage into our Great Lakes and that's a problem. That's a big problem.”

“It’s certainly a good thing overall especially since they just don’t degrade,” said Mike McKay, the director of the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER) based in Windsor, of a potential balloon release ban. “These balloons are not biodegradable, even though some of them might be marketed as being biodegradable.”

McKay noted a recent McMaster University study revealed roughly 960,000 balloons washed up on the shores of Lake Erie each year.

“It’s astounding,” McKay exclaimed. “Some of these balloons can remain whole or intact in the environment for a year or two and what happens at that point, certainly there could be the possibility of birds that reside in the Great Lakes basin that pick these up and could suffer consequences.”

McKay said birds are 32 times more likely to die after ingesting soft plastic like balloons or rubber bands compared to hard plastic, “It’s oftentimes birds that are ingesting these plastics.”

“We’re seeing more and more municipalities considering these bans and I didn’t even realize there’s actually a number of U.S. states that have bans on release of helium filled balloons into the environment,” he said.

However, McKay noted helium is a limited resource with shortages reported around the world, “These balloons are often filled with helium. Helium is a finite resource and there is a limited supply of helium reserves on earth so this might be a moot question as helium gets priced out in the future.”

— With files from AM800/Meagan Delaurier Top Stories

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