The Surfrider Foundation is celebrating a significant victory as the first balloon ban in Orange County, California has passed! The new ordinance reduces plastic pollution and helps protect our ocean, waves and beaches now and for the future.
The campaign to rid Laguna Beach of balloon litter began more than six years ago with a group of ocean-minded activists who provided thousands of signatures in support of a balloon ban. While the tide didn’t turn at that time, the notion was recently resurrected following a Laguna Beach coastal fire. In response to the fire, energy provider Southern California Edison supported a Mylar balloon ban as these balloons are combustible and, when they hit power lines, can lead to public safety and infrastructure damage.
In January 2022, a coalition of NGOs and businesses led by the Surfrider Foundation and its South Orange County Chapter asked the Laguna City Council to prioritize an ordinance reducing the impacts of ‘lighter than air’ balloons.
The push stemmed from Surfrider's South OC chapter’s monthly beach cleanups in Laguna Beach. While whole, deflated balloons are rarely found, volunteers have noticed thousands of plastic foil confetti common in celebratory balloons that are popped on the beach. It is almost impossible to clean this litter from the coasts. Typically, volunteers see clusters of balloons in canyons, trees and many end up in the open ocean. Two of our coalition partners, Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Captain Dave's Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari, stop on most excursions to pick up floating balloons totaling in the thousands annually.
Balloons of all kinds, along with strings and ribbons, pose a disproportionate litter threat, harming the environment and its creatures both on land and in the water. Plastic items can be ingested by animals, blocking their digestive tract and causing slow starving to death. Mylar balloons are petroleum-based and latex balloons contain petroleum-based additives, none of which biodegrade and the production of which exacerbates climate change.
In summer 2022, the Laguna Beach City Council directed this issue back to its appointed Environmental Sustainability and Emergency Preparedness Committees for further review and direction for Council consideration. The Environmental Sustainability committee voted unanimously to request the Council to consider a ban for sale, release and use of all balloons throughout the city, including in parks, beaches, public meeting spaces and other event venues.
Fast-forward to January 2023, and Laguna Beach city staff have recommended three actions the council could take. Public comment was abundant with every speaker encouraging the council to adopt a hybrid of all three actions to eliminate confusion and enforcement roadblocks. The council voted unanimously to move this first reading toward final approval. The second and final reading on February 21, 2023 enacts the ordinance,the first of its kind in Orange County., which the City will phase in over nine months.
Balloon litter is a solvable problem. Since 2016, Surfrider has helped to pass 31 balloon laws nationwide, ranging from bans on the intentional release of balloons, to the prohibition of the sale of balloons in local municipalities. Read the balloon policy toolkit to learn about how you can be a part of the solution to end balloon litter!