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BRIEFING REPORT TO SENIOR MANAGEMENT TEAM Sept 2010 EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT A POLICY-BAN ON THE OUTDOOR RELEASE OF LIGHTER THAN AIR BALLOONS FROM COLERAINE BOROUGH COUNCIL-CONTROLLED PROPERTIES (INCLUDING CONCERNS OVER CHINESE/SKY LANTERNS) INTRODUCTION The percentage „fallout‟ resulting from outdoor mass releases of lighter than air (helium-filled) latex and mylar (foil-coated & painted) balloons over terrestrial and marine habitats has long been a concern for leading environmental campaigners and marine biologists. Faced with compelling evidence that shows fragmented and deflated balloon litter (often with various attachments) to be a potentially hazardous form of pollution (particularly at sea), a growing number of UK and international authorities have banned releases from their properties. The following paper presents the same evidence (for consideration by Senior Management initially) to support the call for a similar ban to be ordained by Coleraine Borough Council. One alternative to balloon releases, that has been growing in popularity are Chinese lighted-lanterns (often released to the sky at night at events such as weddings and other parties). There is a growing concern over the impacts of lantern-fallout, particularly from the National Farmer‟s Union and the Maritime & Coastguard Agency. An unknown, yet significant number of balloon releases (BRs) and lantern releases (LRs) occur each year within the Coleraine Borough Council area (including on our borders) and occasionally permission to use Council lands (parks & playing fields etc) for BRs & LRs is sought by a range of community groups (including schools and Charity-support groups) for fund-raising and publicity events. At this point it must be stressed that Coleraine Borough Council is in no way opposed to any charitable works or registered Charities, many of whom we support directly. We are also unopposed in any way to the balloon manufacturing industry and/or related PR/Events Groups. Our opposition is aimed solely at outdoor balloon releases which unavoidably and regrettably result in littering and our stand on this issue is based solely upon wider, as well as local, environmental well-being and protection. Coleraine Borough Council is proactive in its role in addressing such environmental problems as litter and acknowledges the damaging impact of marine debris and beach litter for which it enjoys wide spread public support (including local and international NGOs). Much of the findings and comments below are as a result of work done by Jim Allen, Council Environment Officer (1989 – present), who has conducted a number of surveys into the problems associated with man- sourced marine debris and beach litter (based largely on the North Irish Coast). The Officer has been engaging with the local community through a number of successful projects and campaigns, often using this issue to further raise awareness of litter-pollution. In addition he has organised a number of large-scale beach and other shoreline (rivers) clean-up initiatives. BALLOON RELEASES & BALLOON LITTER GLOBAL ISSUE The problem of persistent, man-derived, marine debris (including beach/shoreline litter) and its impacts on the marine environment is regarded as a major global issue. Extensive and well documented evidence exists to demonstrate the threats to human health as well as marine-associated fauna. Subsequent concerns can now be seen reflected in National and International legislation pertaining to the disposal of waste on and off shore. LEGISLATION Littering is an offence and fragmented, partially inflated latex balloon- fallout (with or without ribbon and card attachments) can be rightly be regarded as litter (despite claims by the Balloon Manufacturing industry to the contrary). Sea-related legislation pertaining to littering is covered under Annex V of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships 1973 (MARPOL) whilst land-based legislation is covered under the Litter Order 1993 and the Pollution Control Order Local Government (NI) 1994. Under the Polluter Pays Principle, anyone who can trace a source of pollution (including litter) can take that source to court. NEGATIVE IMPACT There is ample evidence of balloon litter being accidentally and purposefully ingested by a range of marine-associated wildlife e.g. sea turtles and filter-feeding cetaceans. Similar to plastic bags and sheeting, the material has the ability to block digestive tracts and/or cause choking. If not immediate or eventual death, the unfortunate victims can suffer from ulcerations and/or impaired foraging efficiency. A number of major marine and wildlife protection Agencies and others e.g. WorldWide Fund for Nature, Marine Conservation Society, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Tidy Britain Group actively encourage a ban on all such releases. http://www.mcsuk.org/what_we_do/Clean%20seas%20and%20beaches/L itter%20campaigns/Don%27t%20let%20go%20-%20balloons http://www.rspca.org.uk/servlet/Satellite?blobcol=urlblob&blobheader=a pplication%2Fpdf&blobkey=id&blobtable=RSPCABlob&blobwhere=115228 6833197&ssbinary=true http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7447381.stm http://www.keepwalestidy.org/policy_and_research# http://www.keepscotlandtidy.org/balloonlitter.asp * See Appendicle 1 for Tidy NI Position Statement regarding balloon litter (including Chinese Lanterns). This in draft form and currently being refined. BIODEGRADABLE CLAIMS Balloon manufacturers will attempt to assure buyers that their product is biodegradable. Almost all balloons are made from natural rubber tree sap and will, like all naturally-occurring materials, in time degrade biologically. The inference here appears to be that deflated and/or fragmented latex material (however deposited to the open air and for whatever reason) because of its bio-degradable properties, is thereby exempt from being viewed in the same context as all other deposited materials eg. paper, (also biodegradable) glass, metal, plastic etc. http://www.nabas.co.uk/about-balloons/index.php Whilst many of the claims by NBAS are true up to a point, there are a number of inhibiting factors which somewhat dispel their claims of limited or non-existent threats to the environment. Many of the balloons will manage to reach such an altitude of reduced air pressure (leading to helium gas expansion), and will eventually „shatter‟ and the resulting fragments of latex may be regarded as posing a minimal risk or threat. Nonetheless a significant number of improperly inflated balloons (including those that cannot for other climatic reasons reach such an altitude) do fallout over land and sea posing a very tangible/visible risk. Partially deflated balloons and sizeable fragments will indeed lose their tensile strength quite quickly when exposed to air. However, when in seawater they are partially submerged and continually „wetted‟ which inhibits the ability of the sun (heat and light) to aid photochemical breakdown. In addition typically low water temperatures of middle to high latitudes appears to further „check‟ the successful biological and/or photo-chemical disintegration of the material. It is this varying time lag between fallout and eventual breakdown to a less harmful state that creates the potential hazard. In countries such as Ireland with such a small landmass, BRs mean that in a matter of minutes balloons are over the coastal and marine environments and a significant number appear to deflate or burst before achieving altitude, thereby falling out on the ocean/sea surface and/or littering beaches. COUNCIL BANS To date the following UK councils have initiated an official ban on BRs within their jurisdictions. Rochford District Council Shetland Islands Council Oxfordshire County Council Portsmouth City Council South Hams District Council South Tyneside Council Plymouth City Council * See Appendicle 2 for Council testimonies („How to get a balloon release ban‟). __________________________________________________________________ CHINESE/SKY LANTERNS – LITTER The night time release of lighted, sky (Chinese) lanterns is growing and popularity and like BRs is also causing an increasing amount of concern particularly among Farmers Groups and Maritime organizations. Like balloon litter, lantern litter is proving to be potentially harmful to both farm and wild life (choking and death) as well as having the ability to cause accidental fire damage to both crops and properties (including at least one human fatality in Germany). Like BRs, LRs are also indiscriminate and beyond human control. There is a growing record of incidences directly and indirectly related to LRs with countryside fires, choking farm animals (including birds), false alarms at sea and even threats to safety of passenger air traffic. The activity is already banned in Germany, Malta, Australia and parts of China with a growing call for bans from the farming lobby and maritime services such as the Coastguard Agency. Below is a list of related hyperlinks to reports of these incidences (with emphasis on UK). Simply highlight the link then click on „open hyperlink‟. Read below for definition/history of use & Manufacturer‟s /Supplier‟s advertisement. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sky_lantern http://www.nightskylanterns.co.uk/ http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/ethicallivingblog/2009/jul/31/sky -lanterns Read below Maritime & Coastguard Agency‟s concerns & incidents http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/red-sky-at-night- coastguards-fright-1763245.html http://www.channelonline.tv/channelonline_guernseynews/displayarticle. asp?id=489874 http://www.cowes.co.uk/zonexml/story?story_id=7164;cp=0 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/isle_of_man/8662409.stm http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Highlighting+the+dangers%3B+Chinese+la nterns+mistaken+for+flares.-a0225561491 http://news.stv.tv/scotland/highlands-islands/181393-chinese-lanterns- lead-to-coastguard-callout/ http://www.wirralnews.co.uk/wirral-news/local-wirral-news/bromborough- bebington-news/2009/08/12/chinese-lanterns-are-being-confused-with- distress-flares-across-the-dee-estuary-and-river-mersey-80491-24372652/ Regarding numbers of incidents probably caused by Chinese / sky Lanterns, recent MCA statistics reveal the following increase over the past 3 years: 2007 (7), 2008 (49), 2009 (approx 347) In 2008 an internal communication was sent to all HMCG rescue co- ordination centres (MRCC) to advise them of the problems of sky lanterns and advising what actions should be taken to mitigate the false alarm rate. MCA currently advise the public to inform their local MRCC if they are considering releasing sky lanterns in or around the maritime environment. The information is logged at the MRCC and shore-side contact information is established in case of any reports of potential search and rescue activity in the area. It is not mandatory for the public to advise the MCA but most responsible members of the public are happy to do so. MCA have also asked manufactures to advise the public to inform Coastguard if they are intending to use sky lanterns near the coast. Read below farmers‟ concerns & incidents. http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/sussex/hi/people_and_places/newsid_88280 00/8828026.stm http://www.nfuonline.com/Our-work/Campaigns-and- Lobbying/Westminster/Join-our-lobbying-effort-on-Chinese-lanterns/ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8490524.stm Read below view of Lantern Manufacturer/seller and public responses. http://www.wishlantern.co.uk/blog/2009/07/sky-lanterns-are-they-really-a- safety-hazard/ Read below concerns for aviation (reasons for Chinese ban) http://blogs.abcnews.com/worldview/2009/03/why-did-china-b.html Read recent debate in House of Lords. http://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2010-02-04a.298.3 ENVIRONMENTALLY-FRIENDLY? In response to growing complaints and concerns, a number of responsible manufacturers and suppliers are seeking to produce as environmentally- friendly a lantern as possible i.e. bamboo frames rather than wire, flame retardant paper etc. Claims of „biodegrabability‟ are not so easily applied when the bamboo frames would take years to break down. It may be that the more sophisticated and elaborate the lanterns become (in order to expand the market) the more difficult it will be to maintain an environmentally risk-free element. Regarding releases, there are also a number of best practice „dos‟ and „don‟ts‟ eg. locations & times. But similar to BRs, LRs once released, are indiscriminate and beyond human control and subject to climate and other governing factors. CONCLUSION NEGATIVE v POSITIVE PR Once agreement has been reached regarding a policy ban on the outdoor release of lighter than air balloons from CBC properties, it is anticipated that there will be a limited degree of negativity from some quarters eg. manufacturers, PR companies and possibly some charity support groups. With regard to the latter, I am happy to report that almost all official groups have agreed with us when presented with the evidence and our reasons for doing so and all have „stood down‟ their plans to release, seeking alternative measures. Below is an example of how I have sometimes articulated the anti-release rationale. „If one were to travel along the road randomly discarding balloon-sized pieces of paper, would they be guilty of a littering offence and therefore liable to prosecution? (some paper has a higher rate of biodegradability than latex). If one were to make the same journey this time discarding hundreds of pieces of latex (some with ribbon and card attached), would they still be guilty of a littering offence? Why should there be a difference or distinction between discarding a piece of paper to the high street/land/sea and distributing (indirectly discarding) eg. 1,000 pieces of latex, especially given that latex (with or without attachments) has proven to be a real and potential form of litter? Supporting a worthwhile cause cannot be offered in defence. Mass outdoor balloon releases may therefore be regarded as mass littering events/offences’. LITTER OR „ACCEPTABLE‟ WASTE Legally speaking the word litter is given a wide interpretation. It can be Litter can be as small as a cigarette end, as large as a bag of domestic refuse or it can also mean various items scattered about. The offence of “leaving litter” (section 87 of the environmental protection act 1990) states that if a person drops, throws, deposits or leaves anything so as to cause defacement in a public place, they could be committing a littering offence. The question is can the act of causing an „indiscriminate‟ release of one or more balloons or lanterns be regarded as either dropping, throwing, depositing or leaving? If the word „releasing‟ is added to this definition of „an offence‟, then BRs & LRs will certainly fall in to the category of a littering offence. As it stands, balloon and lantern litter is currently regarded by government as being outside of the category for litter, despite ongoing pressure and lobbying from all of the Agencies hitherto referred to in this paper. The inference appears to be that balloon and lantern litter is regarded as a form of „acceptable‟ waste resulting from a „well-intentioned‟, „presumably innocent‟ and „unintentional‟ act either for amusement and/or fund-raising. Many commentators however believe that this will soon change as evidence for negative impacts continues to mount. Council should eventually receive a positive reaction and gain from an enhanced credibility for taking such steps to protect and promote environmental well being. CONDIDTIONAL BR BANS In a number of policy briefs regarding BR bans, some conditions have been inserted to allow eg. Releasing up to a maximum of 10 balloons at any one event (separated by a minimum 24 hr period). Allowing for balloon releases that are for government or scientific research (meteorological etc). Hot air balloons that can be recovered. Indoor BRs. OPTIONS More creative options to BRs exist which will have more visually attractive, and environmentally-friendly and sustainable impact such as tethered/anchored hot-air-balloon rides/trips and/or virtual releases (more detail on request). In this increasingly environmentally sensitive age, I believe that everyone (Charities included) should take whatever steps they can to reduce the negative impacts that we all have on the global environment. It has been said that BRs are „short-lived experiences‟ with „long term impacts‟. Jim Allen Environment Officer Coleraine Borough Council 7034 7282 APPENDICE 1 Position Statement – Balloon and Chinese Lanterns (Aug 2010) TIDY NORTHERN IRELAND TIDY Northern Ireland has considered the evidence provided in support of both arguments and supports the position adopted by the TIDY group throughout Britain that large-scale balloon releases have a detrimental effect upon the environment. A balloon release for the purposes of this statement refers to the intentional act of releasing a balloon into the general environment. We contend that justification for large-scale balloon releases has been largely based on a single piece of research, published by D.K. Burchette in 1989. Its most memorable conclusion, that a balloon degrades “as fast as an oak tree leaf”, has been accepted in an unquestioning way, in order to justify balloon releases. Recently, the Marine Conservation Society has led the way in terms of an NGO critique of balloon releases. It bases its policy on the harm that balloon debris can cause to marine life. Other organisations, such as some local authorities in Great Britain, The United States, Australia, and Europe have also concluded that balloon releases are unacceptable on environmental grounds. At least one major private organisation (Barclays Bank) has followed suit. The argument for release comes from a paper published by D.K. Burchette in 1989. This reported that natural latex balloons (the type supported by the Balloon Association NABAS for such releases) would break down within a 6 month timeframe under conditions present in the natural environment. The impartiality of this report has been questioned, as has its accuracy. In Britain, supporting evidence for a ban comes primarily from the Marine Conservation Trust‟s Annual Beachwatch Survey which indicates that balloon related debris on beaches has risen 3-fold since 1996. A study carried out by A.L. Andrady in 2000 found that "Promotional releases of balloons that descend into the sea pose a serious ingestion and/or entanglement hazard to marine animals." Chinese lanterns have been supported as a more acceptable alternative to balloon releases but these present environmental issues as well as possible health risks to farm animals. The most common form of lantern consists of a wire-framed paper balloon heated by a combustible material held in a pan below the balloon. There have been a number of reports of farm animals ingesting the wire frame and suffering severe distress, and unconfirmed reports of fires started by lanterns which have spilt their fuel. In addition, concerns have been raised that the lanterns may be mistaken for distress flares if used in coastal areas. It is TIDY Northern Ireland‟s position that releasing balloons and lanterns should be regarded as littering and should be treated as such in law. Unfortunately, current legislation is ambiguous on this point, and TIDY Northern Ireland is not aware of this position being tested in court. However, a Fixed Penalty Notice was served in 2008 by Newcastle Council for allowing a balloon to become litter. * A full statement of TIDY Northern Ireland‟s position will be released shortly. APPENDICE 2 HOW TO GET A BALLOON RELEASE BAN. The following is some advice and tips from various councils that have already enacted a balloon release ban. PLYMOUTH CITY COUNCIL – JACKIE YOUNG How did we go about it ? Initial research revealed some opposition to a ban from local charities who saw balloon races as a primary source of funding. However, the vast majority of those contacting the Council for advice were supportive of the need to be environmentally responsible. As a responsible local authority we were keen to take action but we were also aware of the potential media backlash this might cause. Council‟s can be seen as „kill joys‟ if this is not handled well. Again, considerable research was undertaken to assess the strength of feeling in the city before any attempt was made to draw up the conditions we would apply. In the event we only received two negative comments – and one of those, predictably, was from the National Society that supports the balloon industry. Ironically we had taken their Charter in to account and had concluded that, whilst it was extremely helpful, it simply wasn‟t environmentally responsible enough for our purposes. As a result, combining a polite request to avoid balloon releases with an eco-friendly message and advice on alternative uses for balloons has, to date, been extremely successful. What about the legal situation ? Our first step was to check if there were any restrictive legal or financial covenants linking fund raising and the use of the city centre or Council land. Historically Plymouth has a number of restrictions created by current or former land owners and we wanted to make sure that a ban would not limit or inhibit these. Other local authorities will need to check that historic agreements are not being breeched by such a ban. If this is the case, our approach will not be suitable as it relies on goodwill and a sense of environmental responsibility. Our legal department also considered the practical implications of the ban but, like ENCAMs, they concluded that no legal action could be taken for littering under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment or Environmental Protection Acts, as balloon waste has yet to be classified as litter. As no legal action can be taken even we felt the best course of action would be to politely ask people to refrain from releasing balloons use the MSC Don‟t Let Go campaign and other supportive literature from the NMA, ENCAMS, RSPCA and NFU. To support the background for the ban Agree a formal „ban‟ through the Council and Use contractual statements to „enforce‟ it. Once all of the potential implications had been taken in to account, a formal report was prepared and submitted. The resulting delegated decision was agreed by our Portfolio Holder in accordance with the Council‟s standing orders on delegated decisions. The ban, which covers land that the Council owns and manages, was agreed in late August. An alternative would have been to bring in the ban at certain sites only or to gradually include more and more sites but, in Plymouth‟s case, neither of these options were felt to be practical. So Where now ? The ban‟s first real test will be the Christmas period when the City Centre in particular hosts numerous late night shopping and promotional events. As it is not always easy to assess how national marketing agencies are going to promote their wares we will be keeping a watchful eye on promoters with the help of our City Centre Company and their team. It is our intention to include a clause in all new contracts for land use banning the releases. The wording, which is being considered at the time of writing, will be simple and based on a simple request for compliance. This may, of course, change if balloon litter is eventually included in the revised CNE Act 2005. We are promoting the ban to all Council Departments and, in particular, to land managers and caretakers who may deal with members of the public. They will have access to a worksheet explaining the ban and setting out alternatives for fund raising. The Sustainable Development Co-ordinator is developing a worksheet highlighting alternative ways of enjoying balloons for promotional use and we are making a point of thanking responsible land users for complying with the ban. Asda, for example, recently withdrew a balloon race from their land at Estover and CAFOD allowed local children to take their balloons home instead of letting them go. In Summary : The points I would highlight would be : Know who and what you are working with – you may find you have more support than you think and there may be no legal reason why this approach couldn‟t work. Do your homework – check there are no restrictive convenants allowing all forms of fund raising. Use positive media links – being environmentally responsible is a powerful motive. Use your circumstances – our location helped. Be prepared to suggest alternatives – not everyone will agree with you. Be polite – not everyone will want to comply. Be brave – if you‟ve done all the above to the best of your ability there is no reason why this can‟t work. For more information contact : Jackie Young, Sustainable Development Co-ordinator, Plymouth City Council on 01752 304220 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org WORCESTERSHIRE COUNTY - RICHARD UDALL It was quite easy really, but I do have the advantage of being a Worcestershire County Councillor! I simply wrote to the head of our property services dept and asked him. He did not reply so I sent a reminder. Eventually I went to see him in his office and asked why no reply was forthcoming. He said he did not know how to reply and would seek advice. He sent a request for guidance to the Chief Officers Management Team. The next thing I knew was a reply from an Officer in the Corporate Services Directorate confirming she was informing all Departments to observe a ban. I was surprised how easy it was, I was expecting to have to table a question in Council or to move a resolution, but it was not necessary. However, it was one thing to gain the ban it will be completely different thing to ensure it is enforced! I will watch and see and do what ever I have to if I notice any breaches of the ban. ROCHFORD COUNTY COUNCIL - HEATHER MEGGISON We were able to introduce the ban as part of our Animal Welfare Charter. We have had the Charter in place since February 2006 and as it is a 'living' document, it is subject to periodic reviews. Your letter to the Council requesting that we consider the ban was therefore considered when we reviewed the Charter in March of this year. As you can see, we are a very animal friendly Council and hence we will always consider animal welfare issues. A report was sent to the Councillor who is the portfolio holder for environment including parks, open spaces and woodlands, recycling, street scene and the new contracts and he made an executive decision on the ban. To be fair, we are a very small authority with limited premises and land and we do not own any schools etc, hence it was fairly simple for us to do. Had it affected a lot more premises or land, I think it would have had to go to full Council for consultation. Having 'googled', mass balloon release bans, some larger authorities have had to debate the issue as they owned large public buildings and schools etc, some then seemed to go for 'partial bans' but then write to the schools that they control and ask them to consider the policy themselves. The fact that there are some well known authorities such as the RSPCA and ENCAMS that have written policies supporting your ban must help the cause and I will say they were very useful when considering whether or not to ban. I think that although animal welfare is a prime concern, the litter route is very relevant too, as when you ask most people what the Council does, they say 'collect the bins and sweep the streets!' and almost everyone is concerned about litter and waste!