City of Encinitas considering proposal for ban on helium-filled balloons

The downtown Encinitas sign.
(Charlie Neuman / San Diego Union-Tribune/Zuma Pre)

A proposed ordinance banning the use, sale or release of “lighter than air,” or helium-filled, balloons could go before the Encinitas City Council for a vote later this year or early next.

The item is up for consideration at this month’s meeting of the city’s Environmental Commission, which will be an in-person gathering scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 14 at City Hall. If the commission votes to recommend approval — a decision that proponents expect is highly likely, given that the commission unanimously recommended drafting the ordinance earlier this year — it will be placed on a future City Council agenda, likely in December or perhaps early next year.

If approved, the ban would apply to various types of helium-filled balloons, including rubber or latex balloons, as well as the metal-looking Mylar ones, the draft ordinance states. People can still buy and use these balloons as long as they are filled with ordinary air, rather than a “lighter-than-air” substance, such as helium. The ordinance contains exemptions for balloons that are used for medical, industrial or scientific purposes, as well as manned hot-air balloons.

Mark O’Connor, one of the leaders of the local Surfrider Foundation’s Rise Above Plastics Committee, was among several people who initially brought forward the proposal to the Environmental Commission and he’s hoping other San Diego County cities follow what Encinitas is doing.

Anyone who regularly walks San Diego County’s beaches knows that escaped balloons are a marine trash problem, he said, mentioning that he has personally collected more than 150 balloons from area beaches in a three-month period. Balloons can be a hazard for marine animals, he added, describing photos he’s seen of sea turtles who tried to eat balloons and dolphins who became tangled in ribbons attached to deflated balloons.

“I’ve got friends in the whale-watching industry, and it’s just a constant thing for them picking up (balloons) on the way out and in,” he said.

O’Connor said balloons also endanger birds and desert tortoises. He has linked up with Sicco Rood, a UC Irvine research associate who has launched a petition drive to get helium-filled mylar balloons banned in San Diego County because they can escape their weighted-down strings and land in wildlife habitats.

“I find these balloons and their strings and ribbons littering and tangled up in cacti and other plants in pristine areas of desert on a daily basis,” Rood wrote in his petition which has collected 3,126 signatures toward a 5,000 goal.

But not everyone is in favor of a ban. The Balloon Council, a national advocacy organization, has launched its own signature drive at

“As Californians look forward to celebrating a return to normalcy, the Encinitas City Council wants to ban balloons from your next birthday, graduation, wedding, or celebration event,” the organization’s online petition form.

The group encourages people to tell the council that the ban is unnecessary and that the balloon waste issue is better handled by education efforts --- “Encourage responsible ways to enjoy balloons,” including discouraging outdoor balloon releases, supporting recycling programs and backing weight-down clips on balloons, the petition states.

A survey conducted earlier this year found that there were eight retailers in Encinitas who sold helium-filled balloons: Smart n’ Final, Stater Brothers, Vons, 99 Cents Only, Ralphs, 1-800-Flowers, Party City and The Dollar Store. A Party City representative said helium-filled balloons accounted for 20 percent of sales and 1-800 Flowers reported 15 percent.

The commission’s report added that there have been helium shortages during the coronavirus pandemic and balloon users have been responding by creating regular air-filled balloon arrangements, including arches and bouquets.

“It is believed that increased sales of these air-only filled balloon designs will off-set the loss of revenue from lighter than air balloon sales and also provide the public with viable alternatives,” the commission report states.

Encinitas isn’t the first California city to consider banning helium-filled balloons. In Los Angeles County, Glendale, Malibu, and Hermosa Beach have all adopted bans on lighter-than-air-filled balloons, it states.

For his part, O’Connor says he hopes the balloon ban will get people to stop putting helium-filled balloons on the Cardiff Kook surfer boy statue along Coast Highway.

“I wish they could post a little sign that says, ‘Post no balloons,” he said. “If this passes, hopefully that’ll put a little damper on that.”