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Environmentalists Push For Ban On Balloons


First, it was plastic bags, then plastic straws, and now balloons. Yeah, that's right - balloons are next on the list of plastics that are being phased out across this country. Environmental groups say what goes up must come down, and often what comes down ends up in various waterways, where turtles, dolphins and many other marine life can mistake pieces of balloons for food.

For the last 30 years, South Carolina's Clemson University has kept their tradition of releasing 10,000 balloons at home football games - not anymore.

JOE GALBRAITH: The Committee on sustainability, the university's committee, recommended doing away with the practice altogether. And that recommendation was adopted by the university leadership.

SINGH: Joe Galbraith, a spokesman for the university - he says the school is looking into alternatives now to balloons.

GALBRAITH: I think an important thing to know about Clemson and the gameday experience at Clemson is the uniqueness of the team's entrance - touching Howard's Rock, running down the hill and entering the field - with or without balloons, it is the most exciting and unique entrance in all of college football.

SINGH: Clemson's not alone. A small island off the Atlantic coast in Rhode Island passed a ban earlier this year against the use of balloons.

Block Island council member Andre Boudreau says violators could get slapped with a maximum $200 fine.

ANDRE BOUDREAU: Nobody is going to go into the little children's birthday party (laughter) - or any kind of party - and hand out $200 fines for a balloon.

SINGH: But Boudreau says you never know.

BOUDREAU: So our goal, I think, would be to educate on the safety and the environmental impacts that balloons and other plastics have on an island community and its marine environment.

SINGH: He says he's already noticed a difference on the island's shores.

BOUDREAU: We have snorkeling. We have clamming. We have, you know, sport fishing. We have, you know, the bathing beaches. We have so many businesses and activities, you know, that families all come here to do that rely on a very clean marine environment.

SINGH: But not everyone's convinced.

Kelly Cheatle loves balloons. She's with the Pro Environment Balloon Alliance, which is all for keeping balloons grounded. But Cheatle says a ban goes too far.

KELLY CHEATLE: They can still create, you know, spectacle. They can still create a spirit of fun without letting them go.

SINGH: In the meantime, more information about the damaging impact of balloons on marine life is surfacing.

Environmental activists in Virginia are expected to come out with a report tomorrow that gives a five-year assessment of how balloon litter has affected coastal beaches. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lakshmi Singh is a midday newscaster and a guest host for NPR, which she joined in 2000.