It’s Friday, February 24, and celebrations in a beachside California city will soon have to take place without an iconic, single-use party favor.

No entry sign made of balloons. Balloons by Emojipedia

The city council of Laguna Beach, about 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles, banned the sale and use of all types of balloons on Tuesday, citing their contribution to ocean litter as well as risks from potential fires when they hit power lines. Starting in 2024, people using balloons on public property or at city events could incur fines of up to $500 for each violation. (Balloons used solely within people’s homes are exempt.)

The ban is part of a growing nationwide movement to restrict balloon use. For now, most balloon-related state and city legislation targets the intentional release of helium-filled balloons, but experts say outright bans on using any type outside are gaining traction as people better understand their environmental consequences. After all, there are plenty of ways to celebrate without balloons, including paper-based decorations, streamers, flags, kites, and pinwheels — many of which can be safely reused dozens of times without the risk of sparking a fire or killing a sea turtle.

“We don’t throw things purposefully into the environment, but we often do that with balloons,” Kara Wiggin, a doctoral researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told me.

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Balloons often become ocean pollution after just a few hours of use. Those made of latex — a kind of soft, synthetic or natural material that may take decades to break down — can be mistaken for food by marine animals and birds, causing nutrient deficiency or suffocation. Balloons made of mylar, a kind of plastic coated in thin metal, basically never break down. The plastic strings attached to them can strangle marine life and then chip into microplastics that contaminate drinking water and the food chain.

Mylar balloons can also get tangled in power lines, leading to power outages or fires. In Riverside, California, balloons caused more than 1,300 minutes of power outages in 2021. Other cities report thousands of ratepayers losing power each year when balloons get caught in power lines.

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