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November 29, 2022

Helium balloons banned in Tweed Shire

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An albatross pecking a balloon. Phot Rich Stallcup

Last week saw the immediate banning of the release of helium balloons in Tweed Shire for events on public land and at Council-owned facilities. 

The Notice of Motion (NoM) was brought forward by Liberal councillors Rhiannon Brinsmead and James Owen and supported by all councillors except Cr Warren Polglase (Conservative) who spoke against the policy becoming effective immediately.

Cr Brinsmead was clear from the outset that the NoM was primarily about ‘ targeted education and awareness campaigns, really not punitive measures’ and pointed out the dangers of helium balloons on a range of wildlife. 

Helium balloons in the sky.

‘Researching this over the last few weeks, balloons are arguably one of the most damaging and dangerous single use plastics with respect to our environment, especially our beaches, waterways, marine life and sea birds,’ Cr Brinsmead told the meeting.

‘A large portion of the Tweed Shire is coastal communities and as a council we are committed to sustainability. 

‘The saying of what goes up must come down is particularly relevant in this scenario. A quick [online] search will highlight the devastating effects that balloons have on dolphins, fish, turtles, sea birds etc. Those effects are similar to plastic bags, and a number of our marine life and seabirds are found dead with remnants of balloons inside them, that is awful to hear. 

Cr Rhiannon Brinsmead (Liberal) Tweed Shire Council.

‘I did have someone approach me once these papers were published, to tell me that balloons are biodegradable. Which is actually misleading, while natural latex may be biodegradable the addition of chemicals and dyes in the balloon manufacturing process make the balloons persistent for many months in the environment. Even released into the environment for a short period of time tends to have pretty devastating effects.’

Cr Binsmead also highlighted the fact that the NSW State government had banned the supply of lightweight plastic bags from 1 June and that from November 1 single use plastic straws, stirrers and cutlery, single use plastic bowls and plates, expanded polystyrene, food service items and single use plastic cotton buds and micro-beads in certain personal care products will also be banned.

‘NSW is the only state in Australia where releasing up to 20 helium balloons at a time is still legal,’ she said. 

‘I thought that was quite contradictory and I think that it’s a good opportunity for the state government to do more about this type of pollution. I think it is everyone’s responsibility to try and protect our environment.’

Seabirds strangled by wads of balloons, ribbons and strings. Photo pennys-tuppence.blogspot.com

Heavy handed

While Cr Polglase said he supported ‘the sentiments put forward’ he believed it was ‘rather heavily handed’. 

‘It says prohibit the release of helium balloons is “effective immediately”. That means tomorrow,’ Cr Polglase explained. 

‘So if there is a group of people at Jack Evans Boat Harbour having a birthday party and they are playing around with these balloons, council rangers can come along and say there is a law to say you can’t do it.

‘Surely we would have a public engagement policy as a council to be able to tell people we this is going to be put forward. It is rather drastic to bring it in effective immediately when we haven’t advised the community that it is going to happen. 

‘We should have at least a month or so advising in the local papers that we are going to have this process and allow some community engagement. That’s normally our policy as a council, community engagement, I’ve heard people talk about it time and time again. And here we are taking a more heavy handed approach by saying this policy becomes effective immediately. I don’t think that is the right way to go, it puts people off with council, saying big brother is going to slam us with this. 

‘Lets just take another month or so, put it in public exhibition, advise the public on what we are going to do, when we are going to do it and then we can enforce the actions required.’

Crs Brinsmead and Owen chose not to take on that suggestion pointing out that ‘This NOM is more about targeted education and awareness and not punitive measures and that is in the NOM itself.’

Councillors Mayor Chris Cherry (Independent) and Dr Nola Firth both spoke in favour of the NoM. 

‘I think it is really good to try and change the mentality and if we need to mandate it to do that, I think it is something the community is ready for,’ said Mayor Cherry. 

‘I think people are ready to realise we have to find alternatives. Yes it is a beautiful thing to see 20 balloons disappear off in the air but they have to come down somewhere and we need to think about the consequences of our actions. So let’s throw some rose petals or something.’

Cr Polglase was the only councillor to vote against the NoM.  

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  1. Helium doesn’t grow on trees either, another limited and valuable industrial resource that we just “throw” away without a thought. More unnecessary consumption that inevitably degrades the planet from resource source through manufacture and transport, and ultimately trivial end product and a waste product into landfill or directly into the environment.


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