TO SENIOR MANAGEMENT TEAM
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)
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
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
BALLOON RELEASES & BALLOON LITTER
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.
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.
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.
* See Appendicle 1 for Tidy NI Position Statement regarding balloon litter
(including Chinese Lanterns). This in draft form and currently being refined.
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.
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
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
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
Read below Maritime & Coastguard Agency‟s concerns & incidents
Regarding numbers of incidents probably caused by Chinese / sky
Lanterns, recent MCA statistics reveal the following increase over the past
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.
Read below view of Lantern Manufacturer/seller and public
Read below concerns for aviation (reasons for Chinese ban)
Read recent debate in House of Lords.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
It has been said that BRs are „short-lived experiences‟
with „long term impacts‟.
Coleraine Borough Council
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
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
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
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
Use your circumstances – our location helped.
Be prepared to suggest alternatives – not everyone will agree with
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
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
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
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!