City of Mandurah put support behind a balloon boycott

The City of Mandurah have put their support behind boycotting balloons throughout the Peel region in an effort to reduce plastic litter.

Mandurah mayor Rhys Williams told the Mandurah Mail the city encouraged locals to consider other options instead of releasing balloons into the environment.

“In a place like Mandurah, we have such beautiful coastline and Ramsar listed wetlands and our waterways and we don’t want to see them getting clogged up with plastic,” he said.

“I don’t blame people for having done it in the past but I think that with a lot of the stuff that we are learning about the impact of plastic on our oceans, we know better now.”

Mr Williams said the city had already entertained the idea of banning helium balloons, only to find out they were already considered litter under state law.

I don’t blame people for having done it in the past but I think that with a lot of the stuff that we are learning about the impact of plastic on our oceans, we know better now.

Mayor Rhys Williams

“It’s already covered under the Litter Act – you can’t do it, it’s not legal,” he said.

“There really isn’t any point in us creating a local law about it but when we started looking into this, it became the catalyst for us going plastic free as an organisation.

“The reason we did that was because firstly, we are a big organisation with a big footprint so that was really important and secondly, it is to be a role model to other organisations locally.

“We want to work with our clubs and our groups that if we see it happening, advising them that they shouldn’t do it – it’s all about education for us as opposed to enforcement.”

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Currently under the Litter Act 1979, items become litter when they are deposited on land or waters so the releasing of balloons is not an offence but when they land, it is considered littering. 

Keep Australia Beautiful WA said this can be a “very difficult situation to prove”.

“An authorised officer would need to witness the release of the balloon then follow the balloon and see it fall to land to be able to issue an infringement,” the website reads.

But Lisa Hills, the driving force behind the Facebook group Boycott Balloons Fremantle, said she will keep fighting until local legislation changes to class the act of releasing helium balloons as litter.

Ms Hills has more than 3,000 followers around the world who have joined her crusade to help stop balloon releases and protect the environment.

She said we need to start making changes “before it’s too late”.

“Whether balloons are released or not, if they are not disposed of correctly they will most likely end up in our water system and once they are in our waterways, many aquatic species mistake the balloon or balloon particles as food,” she said.

“At first people call me names like the fun police but once you explain what happens, people understand and they never look at a balloon again in the same way.

“People say the children will be sad if they can’t have balloons but in fact the children these days understand the harm they could cause and they don’t want to risk animals’ lives over a few hours of fun.”

At first people call me names like the fun police but once you explain what happens, people understand and they never look at a balloon again in the same way.

Lisa Hills

A veterinary nurse at Perth Zoo, Ms Hills said she has seen first hand the impact humans are having on wildlife, “especially the detrimental effects of marine debris”.

“In the ideal world, I would love to see an end to the manufacturing of balloons,” she said.

Despite originally forming the group to tackle what Ms Hills first thought was a problem focused to Fremantle, she said she’s had plenty of support from individuals and groups in Mandurah, where the issue is just as prevalent.

“I have supports living in Mandurah who are also active in many other environmental groups in Mandurah such as WA Seabird Rescue, Peel Preservation Group and Dolphin Rescue,” she said.

“These people are picking up balloon litter all the time, especially around Novara Foreshore and Len Howard Conservation Park.

“I would love to see other groups forming – the more groups we have the further we can spread the message.”

Biodegradable options

Keep Australia Beautiful WA state that “claims that balloons can be biodegradable, are misleading”.

“While natural latex may be biodegradable, the addition of chemicals and dyes in balloon manufacture can make balloons persist for many months in the environment,” the website reads.

“Balloons that are released into the environment, even for a short time can cause harm.”

Ms Hills said, even if they were completely biodegradable, other parts of the balloons can still be harmful to animals that ingest them.

“Balloon strings and clips also cause harm to wildlife by entanglement and ingestion,” she said.

“Unfortunately balloons are falsely marketed saying they are natural latex and biodegradable therefore people often don’t dispose of them in the correct way.

“We want educate people about the potential damage balloon litter can do.”

Keep Australia Beautiful WA instead suggest a number of alternative options celebrate, promote or commemorate. 

Some options include releasing foam bubbly clouds, planting a native tree, using bunting, flags, banners, streamers or dancing inflatables or lighting candles.

For more information, visit the Boycott Balloons Fremantle Facebook page or Keep Australia Beautiful website.