At last week’s meeting I successfully introduced a Notice of Motion asking Council to immediately ban the release of helium balloons at events of public land, and to extend this ban to all types of balloons as of 1st January 2023. The motion also asked Council to undertake an extensive public education campaign to raise awareness of the dangers posed by balloons to our seabirds and turtles and write to State and Federal Ministers advising them of our decision. It was supported unanimously by all Councillors.
NSW is the last state in Australia where it is still legal to release up to 20 helium balloons without a fine. Late last year the NSW Government passed the Plastic Reduction and Circular Economy Act (2021), which introduced bans on several common single-use plastics, including plastic bags (from 1 June 2022) and plastic straws, stirrers and cutlery (from 1 November 2022), however despite extensive lobbying, the NSW Government failed to ban the release of helium balloons as part of these reforms.
Helium balloons are the most damaging of all due to their ability to travel long distances, but the truth is all balloons pose a serious threat to our environment. This is because they can end up in our rivers, lakes and oceans where they are often mistaken for colourful fish and ingested by seabirds, turtles and other marine life. The photo below shows a turtle that was rescued by Australian Seabird and Turtle Rescue recently that has ingested a balloon. One of many that come to their service every month.
A recent Australian research paper highlighted that balloons and other soft plastic waste in oceans are 32 times more likely to kill seabirds than hard plastic waste. Despite manufacturers assuring the public that balloons are ‘100% biodegradable’, a recent study by the University of Tasmania found that after 16 weeks in freshwater, saltwater and industrial compost conditions, latex balloons did not degrade.
Our resolution relates specifically to Council’s events on public land policies, which govern larger events such as markets, festivals and weddings. Councils are well placed to enact controls to restrict single-used plastics in land that they own or manage on behalf of the Crown. In fact, many Councils across all States and Territories have already introduced similar restrictions on balloons. Much of public land that Ballina Shire Council owns and manages that is popular for public events is directly adjacent to our rivers, oceans and waterways. While the resolution will not ban balloons at private events on public land, I am hopeful that it will be the catalyst for wider behaviour change.
While the ban on the release on helium balloons will take effect immediately, the ban on all types of balloons will be phased in over a period of 6 months to enable Council to give notice to the community, as well as event planners and market managers. We want to bring the community along with us on this journey and offer them the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of a more sustainable lifestyle. Council is also embarking on several other supporting initiatives, including distributing plastic-free children’s party kits to our local libraries.
As a coastal community, it is essential that we take leadership on initiatives such as this to protect our environment and the animals that call it home. As a Councillor, i'll continue to advocate for greater protection for our natural assets and reasonable policy changes that encourage behaviour change towards a more sustainable future.
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