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Local Girl Scouts push to make releasing balloons into air illegal

Posted at 6:27 PM, Jan 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-10 21:23:48-05

TEMPE, AZ — They're common at memorials, celebrations or sporting events, but a new bill would make releasing balloons into the air illegal in Arizona.

Representative Mitzi Epstein, who represents District 18, told ABC15 she plans to introduce the environmental bill next week.

The bill would prohibit people from releasing balloons into "the atmosphere for any reason, including as a part of an event, promotional activity or product advertisement."

There would be four exceptions:

1. A person who accidentally releases fewer than five balloons into the atmosphere.
2. A person who operates a hot air balloon that is recovered after launch.
3. Balloons that are used for a scientific or meteorological project or by or on behalf of a government-sponsored project.
4. Balloons that are released indoors and recovered after release.

Rep. Epstein said if the bill becomes law, enforcement would be done by cities and towns. If someone gets ticketed, they wouldn't have to pay a fine but instead be sentenced to community service to pick up litter.

The inspiration behind the bill is a group of Arizona Girl Scouts. Fourth grader Amber Chen and 13 of the other members of Troop 3835 reached out to her after learning about plastic pollution.

“Girl Scouts are trying to make the world a better place, so once we found out that if you release balloons it can hurt birds and other wildlife, we decided to make a law about it. Because there is no law," said Chen. "Animals are awesome and we shouldn’t live in a world without animals.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, balloons that are released into the air can be harmful to the environment and wildlife.

Charles Rolsky is a PhD student at ASU researching plastic pollution and said balloons are part of a massive plastic waste problem.

"It has impacted virtually every ecosystem that it has been found in. And research shows that balloons specifically are the most fatal type of plastic for birds," Rolsky said.

Rolsky said animals can mistake balloons for food, and if eaten and ingested, they can lead to internal injury, starvation and death.

String or ribbon that is often found attached to balloons can cause animals to get tangled up and the string can wrap around them causing injury, illness and suffocation.

"If it's in the environment, it's going to stay there for a really long time. It's been known to have really really bad effects on the animals eating them, and even on the human beings, we're projecting it's going to have a pretty nasty affect on our health," he said.

Rolsky has been working with Rep. Epstein and the Girl Scouts on promoting the bill.

“It’s incredibly inspiring to see young women make an impact. They’re role models for kids all over the country and all over the world —that you can make a difference no matter how old you are," said Rolsky.

Click here to read the full bill.

RELATED: NOAA's guide to plastic in the ocean