Council leaders are supporting a campaign to ban balloon releases due to the environmental pollution they cause.
Durham County Council is among 32 local authorities in England which have signed up to ban the releasing of balloons, which are ofen seen as a mark of respects for people who have died.
Now, the Marine Conservation Society, is calling on members of the public to encourage other local authorities to follow suit.
The society’s Don’t Let Go campaign is also urging people to ban the release of sky lanterns.
Balloon releases have become very popular, many times for people wanting to show their respects to those who have lost their lives and others for fun at events to see how far they can go.
Thousands of balloons have been released across the region, including at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light and at Blackhall Primary School in memory of six-year-old Bradley Lowery, who lost his fight with neuroblastoma.
However, environmental campaigners are aiming to educate the public about the hazards posed to wildlife.
They say dolphins, whales, sharks, seabirds and turtles have all been killed by balloons and balloon strings through entanglement or ingestion.
Steve Bhowmick, Durham County Council’s environment and design manager, said: “In 2008 we signed a regional pledge to stop balloon releases on local authority land.
“Unfortunately since then we’ve seen a huge increase in the use of non-degradable foil balloons and strings and their impact on marine life, as well as general and shore litter.
We’d encourage all of our local partners to join in in re-affirming out commitment to stop balloon releasesSteve Bhowmick
“With this in mind, we feel that a regional refresh would be beneficial, and we’re pleased to say that this is being taken forward through the North East Nature Partnership.
“We’d encourage all of our local partners to join us in re-affirming our commitment to stop balloon releases and limit the damaging effects they can have on our environment.”
Emma Cunningham, pollution campaigns officer at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “There’s an awful lot of confusion over balloons, especially what they’re made of and how they break down. Some people believe that because latex is natural, balloons made of it are harmless once let go.
“This just isn’t the case. Latex may last for up to four years in the marine environment.
“The latest research also shows that only around 13% of balloons burst into small pieces whilst more than 80% come down intact. This could explain the rise in balloon litter levels we have seen on beaches, which will have a great impact on wildlife.
“Ultimately we’d like to see balloons and lanterns classed as litter under the relevant legislation. Because they are let go, and not directly dropped on the ground they’re not currently classed as litter, yet balloon litter levels have increased on the UK’s beaches since we started recording this litter item back in 1998.
“In 2016 there was a 50% rise in balloon litter compared to 2015. It’s great to hear Durham County Council and South Tyneside Council have balloon bans and we would encourage all other local authorities in the area to follow suit if it isn’t already in the pipeline.”
The society wants others to pledge their support by visiting www.mcsuk.org/campaigns/dont-let-go.
The Bradley Lowery Foundation says it does not officially promote balloon releases but recognises that people want to pay their respects and stage tributes.