Council hopes to ‘create a wave’ and have other municipalities follow suit
Gravenhurst council has taken the recommendation to include balloon and sky lantern releases in the Town’s existing littering by-law.
Coun. John Gordon brought the recommendation from the Gravenhurst Environmental Advisory Committee (GEAC) to council on July 20. He explained that “this is not about a child letting go of one balloon. These are large balloon releases, families use them at events. But no matter what it is for, it is littering.”
Coun. Penny Varney said that lantern releases were not only littering, but can pose a fire risk. “I’ve seen one of these lanterns start a fire on Georgian Bay. It landed on a nearby island and lit a tree on fire. So this could also be tied into fire by-laws.”
Director of Community Growth and Development, Scott Lucas said that the best solution to get the ban underway “was to deal with this through the littering by-law primarily, but that GEAC would consider other by-laws.”
In a follow-up interview, Deputy Mayor Heidi Lorenz detailed how she became aware of the issue. “My interest in this goes back to 2015 when an event I attended released balloons, it was only a handful but they were tied together. I thought to myself ‘where is that going to land?’ I then started looking online at the harm to wildlife balloons caused and saw an owl all tangled up in the ribbons and was quite disturbed by the image. I since have found several balloons in many remote camping areas,” said Lorenz.
She did further research and discovered some coastal States had created by-laws, to protect marine life and turtles. “It got me thinking how similar Muskoka is. And then came gender reveals and I would see videos daily of people sending dozens of pink or blue balloons into the sky and decided to move forward with the resolution on April 20. It only seemed natural to add the lanterns with the obvious fire hazard,” she said.
Lorenz said she was “quite taken aback” by some of the negative feedback she has received. “I was shocked that anyone could defend what I see as littering.”
Since the by-law has not been developed yet, Lucas said, but that “we are likely to bring the matter forward later this year…restrictions will be in effect once council passes the by-law.” He said enforcement would likely occur on a complaint basis, but emphasized that community education is key.
Coun. Sandy Cairns echoed this at the meeting, saying that “we will have to get the education to the public, get the word out about this.”
Lorenz commented at the meeting that the state of Victoria, Australia has just implemented a similar ban. Other cities and towns around the world are receiving petitions and taking steps to ban ‘sky trash.’ Lorenz hopes that Gravenhurst can help to encourage other neighbouring municipalities to follow suit.
“This should be bigger,” she said. “Maybe we can create a wave. We can be the ones to carve a path for this.”
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