Plastic bottles trash Miami Beach’s deal with Coca-Cola

City cites sustainability as it ends negotiations with beverage sponsor

The city says it values sustainability and won't enter another lucrative sponsorship if it means they're stuck with plastic.

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – The city of Miami Beach is breaking up with Coca-Cola, rejecting a $4 million, 10-year sponsorship deal with the soft drink company.

Negotiations hit a roadblock because of all the plastic packaging that came attached to the contract.

The historic North Beach Bandshell knows how to throw a party. It’s not only recognized as one of the region’s best live music venues, but it was also recently named by as the sustainable venue of the year.

“A lot of that has really started with our ability to reduce waste at this facility,” said Benton Galgay, deputy director of the Rhythm Foundation, which has been producing concerts exclusively at the Bandshell since 2015, priding itself in never using plastic when offering food and drink.

With one glaring exception: The bottle of water.

That’s because, for the past 10 years, Coca-Cola has been the exclusive non-alcoholic beverage sponsor of the city of Miami Beach, which means all concession venues on city-owned property can only sell Coca-Cola products, and Coca-Cola is only offering them in plastic bottles.

“Nothing but Dasani,” Galgay said, noting that the Coke-owned water only comes to them in plastic bottles despite them asking for aluminum cans.

“Unfortunately, Coca-Cola is unwilling to give us the products that they already manufacture in aluminum, despite the fact that they already make these products in aluminum and are available for sale,” said Dave Doebler, an eco-activist who is the former chair of the Miami Beach Sustainability Committee.

He has been tracking this issue for the past five years, waiting for the city’s contract with Coca-Cola to expire. Now it has, and Doebler says the proposed renewal is bad for the beach.

“The current contract is going to deposit 25 million single-use plastic beverage bottles onto our city and our beaches,” he said.

Plastic pollution is one of the biggest threats to our ecosystem. Less than 9% of all plastics are ever recycled.

“When we do cleanups, we pick up 200, 300 single-use plastic bottles,” said Doebler, who is also co-founder of “The bottle caps, the wrappers, and then those little rings that are on the plastic bottles. And so we pick up thousands of these every year.”

Still, Coca-Cola refused to take plastic packaging off the table, so the city just tabled Coca-Cola.

“I feel that we want to go more towards the sustainable route, something more aligned with our values as to the environment and more of a plastic-free future,” Commissioner Alex Fernandez said at a commission meeting last week.

The commissioners ultimately voted to end negotiations with the soft drink giant.

“I just think that the contract wasn’t good enough for Miami Beach,” Commissioner David Richardson said. “The one thing was just all the plastic. We don’t really need all of that.”

The city will now go month to month with Coke while it explores other partnerships that are more in line with the plastic-free initiative the city launched in 2018.

“I think what we want is that we want our city and our partners to set examples for everybody else,” Mayor Dan Gelber said.

For Doebler, it is an opportunity to finally get this right for Miami Beach and its residents.

“We just need to change the packaging,” he said. “This is not an anti-Coca-Cola initiative. This is an anti-plastic initiative, and Coca-Cola needs to become a better corporate citizen.”

And for Galgay, a new beverage partnership without all the plastic is music to his ears.

“As a member of the plastic-free Miami Beach community, I think that we should have the right to refuse the service of products that are not plastic-free,” he said. “To make sure what we’re doing has a zero or positive impact on the area surrounding us.”

Local 10 News reached out to various reps for Coca-Cola who declined to be a part of the story, saying they do not comment on ongoing contract negotiations.

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.