COMMENT: Time to blow off helium balloons for good

It was one small puff of helium for a celebration, one giant bang for the town of Merimbula.

On Monday, a single helium-filled foil balloon became entangled in power lines on the corner of Henwood and Collins St, creating a network short and cutting power to 1427 customers.

That more than 1400 customers can lose power due to a single balloon contacting power lines seems extraordinary, but it raises an even bigger question.

Should helium balloons really have a place in a modern society concerned with pollution, environmental protections and waste reduction?

The release of 20 or more balloons filled with helium at one time is prohibited in NSW under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act, with applicable fines for anyone caught doing so in the region of $1100 per offence.

And in the Bega Valley, the intentional release of any lighter-than-air balloon at council events or on council-owned reserves was outlawed in 2017.

There's no suggestion Monday's balloon was anything other than an accident. However, do we really need to have helium balloons available in the first place?

According to Clean Up Australia, balloons are a major threat to the environment, particularly marine life, who eat the many escaped balloons that make their way into our oceans.

The organisation said a 2020 Australia study showed latex balloons do not degrade after even 16 weeks in freshwater, saltwater and industrial compost conditions, and that another research paper highlighted balloons and other soft plastic waste in oceans are 32 times more likely to kill seabirds than hard plastic waste.

Monday's blow-out comes in the same week that Bega Valley Shire Council went to the community to advance public knowledge on soft plastic recycling and diverting additional potential resources away from landfill - in a similar way to our region's FOGO campaign.

It bears repeating that a Bega Valley-based volunteer organisation - No Balloon Release Australia - has been campaigning against helium balloons for more than five years, not just the release of them, but the sale and promotion of helium balloons and helium tanks to fill them.

There are plenty of alternatives with which to celebrate. Isn't it time to blow off helium balloons for good?

This story COMMENT: Time to blow off helium balloons for good first appeared on Bega District News.