NEW YORK (AP) — Now that plastic straws may be headed for extinction, could Americans' love of balloons be deflated?
The joyous celebration of releasing balloons into the air has long bothered environmentalists, who said the pieces that fall back to earth can be deadly to seabirds and turtles that eat them. So as companies vow to banish plastic straws, there are signs balloons will be among the products to get more scrutiny, even though they're a very small part of environmental pollution.
This year, college football powerhouse Clemson University is ending its tradition of releasing 10,000 balloons into the air before games, a move that's part of its sustainability efforts. In Virginia, a campaign that urges alternatives to balloon releases at weddings is expanding. And a town in Rhode Island outright banned the sale of all balloons earlier this year, citing the harm to marine life.
"There are all kinds of alternatives to balloons, a lot of ways to express yourself," said Kenneth Lacoste, first warden of New Shoreham, Rhode Island, who cites posters, piatas and decorated paper.
Following efforts to limit plastic bags, the push by environmentalists against straws has gained traction in recent months, partly because they're seen as unnecessary for most. Companies including Starbucks and Disney are promising to phase out plastic straws, which can be difficult to recycle because of their size and often end up as trash in the ocean. A handful of U.S. cities recently passed or are considering bans. And the push may bring attention to other items people may not have considered — like festive balloons.
"The issue of straws has really broadened the marine debris issue," said Emma Tonge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. People might not realize balloons are a danger, she said, because of their "light and whimsical" image.
Balloons are not among the top 10 kinds of debris found in coastal cleanups, but Tongue said they're common and especially hazardous to marine animals, which can also get entangled in balloon strings.