In this April 25, 2019, photo, a balloon sits tangled on the rocky coast after washing ashore in Biddeford Pool. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Mainers could face steep fines for balloon litter if lawmakers approve a slate of bills to cut down on the hazard to wildlife.

The bills are part of a broader push to crackdown on plastic and latex litter that can harm the environment and Maine’s wildlife, including birds, fish and other animals.

In June 2019, Kennebunk voters approved an ordinance that banned displaying and releasing balloons outside. A similar ordinance has been in effect in Unity since 2019, where it is “unlawful” to release 10 or more balloons in a 24-hour period.

One bill — LD 1023, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Genevieve McDonald of Stonington — would prohibit Mainers from intentionally releasing balloons outdoors, while the second — LD 618, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Lydia Bloom of York — would classify the intentional release of balloons as littering. Neither bill would ban balloon releases for a scientific or meteorological purpose.

Balloon waste has become a growing problem, and it now ranks among the 15 most common pieces of litter found across the United States, according to the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Jennifer Kennedy of the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation told the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources on Monday that balloons are commonly found scattered along beaches and floating in bunches along the coastline.

“Marine life and other wildlife can become entangled in the balloon or their strings [or] ribbon or mistake them for food and ingest them,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said that animals can’t digest balloons if they accidentally ingest them, so the plastic or latex gets stuck in their digestive system and can further prevent them from digesting food. In 2014, Marine Mammals of Maine discovered a balloon inside the intestines of a stranded white-sided dolphin.

But Allison Briggs of the Maine Audubon Society said that balloon litter isn’t “just a coastal problem.”

She told lawmakers that one balloon found in a marsh had floated more than 100 miles from a school in Bangor. She said that many people don’t consider what happens to the balloons after they are released, and by classifying balloon releases as littering Mainers would understand the impact that balloons have on the environment.

Under this legislation, any person who knowingly releases 10 or fewer balloons could face a $100 to $500 fine for a first offense. Those fines rise to $500 to $1,000 for subsequent offenses.

Any person who intentionally releases more than 10 balloons could face a $500 fine, as well as 100 hours of mandatory community service to clean up polluted areas on the first offense. Repeated offenses could result in a $2,000 fine.

Leela Stockley is an alumna of the University of Maine. She was raised in northern Maine, and loves her cat Wesley, her puppy Percy and staying active in the Maine outdoors.