A crowd at the Northern Maine Veterans Cemetery in Caribou releases balloons skyward in hopes that they will be read by their departed loved ones, Dec. 12, 2015. Unity residents on Saturday approved an ordinance to prohibit the mass release of balloons in town. Credit: Christopher Bouchard | Aroostook Republican & News

The town of Unity will no longer permit the mass release of balloons amid concern over the impact of litter on the environment and wildlife.

The Waterville Morning Sentinel reports that Unity residents at their annual town meeting on Saturday approved a prohibition against releasing 10 or more balloons within a 24-hour period.

Penny Sampson, who chairs the Board of Selectmen and came up with the ordinance, called the prohibition a “baby step” toward greater environmental protection.

“It’s not like we have a big balloon problem here in Unity, but we also wanted to sort of set a precedent, and hopefully this is something that could be passed statewide,” the Sentinel quoted Sampson as saying.

Under the ordinance, it is unlawful for people or corporations to release 10 or more balloons inflated with a gas lighter than air in a 24-hour period. Exemptions are provided for balloons released for scientific or meteorological purposes, hot-air balloons that are recovered after launching, and balloons released indoors, according to the ordinance.

“The Town of Unity finds that the release into the atmosphere of large numbers of balloons inflated with lighter-than-air gases poses a danger and nuisance to the environment, particularly to wildlife and marine animals,” the ordinance reads.

A violation is punishable by a fine of $250, though Sampson said she hopes the town won’t have to enforce the penalty, according to the Sentinel.

“Some people were all concerned about what happens if you’re having a birthday party and the balloons, you know, happen to get away,” the Sentinel quoted her as saying. “That’s not one of the things we’re looking to go after. It’s the organized mass balloon releases.”

Unity isn’t the only place where a prohibition on mass balloon releases has been considered. Rep. Allison Helper, D-Woolwich, has proposed a bill to regulate the sale and release of balloons at the state level. Last year, a Kennebunk teen proposed banning helium balloons in that town over concern for their environmental impact once they return to earth. That proposal was met with resistance from the town’s Select Board and local businesses.