DANIA BEACH, Fla. – It’s a beautiful morning and teenagers Colton Yancy and Nicole Barroso have come to Dania Beach to fish at their favorite spot.
Instead, they’re picking up trash.
“You’ll see it all the time. You’ll come to the beach and there’s trash everywhere,” said Yancy, a Miramar resident.
Like thousands of beaches across the planet, this one is also in the grips of a crisis.
Over the past month, our “Don’t Trash Our Treasure” series has been showing just how bad the trash and pollution have gotten in Miami-Dade County. The problem is just as bad in Broward.
“Plastic is a problem everybody knows about, and no one really does much about it,” said Barroso, who also lives in Miramar. “We don’t want to be at a dirty beach, especially this beach. We’re here all the time.”
Catherine Uden, a young mother and former school teacher, used to love to paddleboard on Dania Beach.
Her intimate encounters with marine life were awesome, but so was the trash she saw in the ocean.
“I am definitely seeing the problem get worse,” Uden said. “I was stand-up paddling in our waterway collecting all of this garbage on my board and I just felt the need to do something about it.”
Uden is now the South Florida field rep for Oceana, an international nonprofit with the mission to protect the world’s oceans and attack the plastic pollution problem head-on.
“A garbage truck full of plastic enters the ocean every minute, every minute,” Uden said.
It’s killing our marine life and poisoning us.
Right now, the world dumps 8 million metric tons of plastic into the ocean every year, and by 2050, global plastic production is expected to quadruple.
“So all this plastic that you’re seeing in the environment, it’s just going to get worse if we don’t curb the plastic production,” Uden said.
On this day, on this beach, it was everywhere.
People know they shouldn’t litter, but yet there are plastic bags, cans and a styrofoam cup in plain view.
“I think there needs to be education and awareness, but unfortunately not everyone is going to care and it’s so hard to avoid single-use plastics,” Uden said.
It takes a single plastic cup 450 years to biodegrade, and as for that plastic water bottle, only 9% of what we think is recycled is actually recycled.
“We’ve been either incinerating it or burying it which creates greenhouse gases which is bad for climate change,” Uden said.
She says the only way to truly solve the world’s plastic problem is to attack it at the source.
“If we would be able to have a complete ban, it would make it so much easier and you would see less of it,” she said. “It’s very frustrating that Florida, our legislature, is not doing more to deal with this problem.”
Eight states have banned single-use plastic bags (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont).
Although 27 cities in Florida have passed some type of single-use plastic legislation — such as banning plastic straws, plastic utensils or even styrofoam cups on city-owned property — the state is preempting cities from banning anything else.
“Our state legislature won’t let us do it,” Uden said. “Your municipality will actually get sued if they try to reduce single-use plastic.”
Oceana is banking on public pressure to move the needle in Tallahassee. Until then, more cleanups, more public education, and being more conscious consumers, are the only weapons we have in this ongoing plastic war — one the planet is counting on us winning.
“Our oceans do a lot for us and we take advantage of it,” Barroso said, “so the best we can do is just give back a little bit.”
The United States is the No. 1 producer of plastic in the world. Other countries have done so and have banned some single-use plastics. In March, two members of Congress introduced the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2021, which would build on successful state laws and outline practical strategies to reduce our nation’s plastic consumption and production. We’ll see if it passes.
Municipalities in Florida with plastic straw ordinances:
Fort Myers Beach
Lauderdale by the Sea
West Palm Beach