MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Every year more than 14 million tons of plastic ends up in the ocean, and with plastic production expected to quadruple in the next 30 years, scientist predict there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by weight.
As Local 10 News has been reporting, more and more South Florida cities have either stopped recycling or cut back on service because it’s become too expensive.
That’s one reason why Miami-Dade County recently initiated a bold new program.
Last weekend, a special clean up on the shores behind the W Miami hotel in South Beach to celebrate World Oceans Day produced some very sobering results.
“We picked up 600 pounds of trash,” said Sophie Ringel, Founder of Clean Miami Beach. “These 600 pounds were mostly plastic.”
The Blue Scholars Initiative collaboration with Clean Miami Beach and International Seakeepers confirmed the data from scientists: our planet is drowning in plastic pollution.
Out of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced since 1950, more than 6 billion tons of it has become plastic waste and a staggering 80 percent has ended up in the ocean.
“We need to eliminate plastic waste because it is completely trashing our oceans, especially Biscayne Bay,” said Caiti Waks, Co-Founder and President of Debris Free Oceans.
Less than eight percent of all plastics are ever recycled, and while many coastal cities like Miami and Miami Beach want to regulate single use plastics to reduce pollution, they can’t because the State of Florida won’t let them, preempting any municipality or county from passing any anti-plastic legislation.
“Trying to undo preemptions is very, very challenging in free Florida, where you’ve got folks in control right now that are very business friendly, don’t really lean on the side of the environment,” said Florida State Rep. Michael Grieco.
That’s why Miami-Dade County launched Plastic Free 305, a voluntary program encouraging all businesses in Miami-Dade to greatly reduce if not eliminate their single use plastic waste.
“We want to thank you, all the business leaders, who are taking this bold step,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. “It is very possible we do not have to use plastic. There’s paper, cardboard, other alternatives that are much better for the environment.”
Biodegradable wooden utensils can replace plastic ones, bamboo plates can replace Styrofoam containers and just ditch the plastic bags all together and instead offer paper, or better yet reusable canvas ones.
“Our poor manatees are already struggling enough, we don’t need all these plastic bags floating in the water,” said Irela Bague, Miami-Dade Chief Bay Officer.
Environmental groups like Debris Free Oceans have been advocating for programs this. Plastic isn’t just an eye sore, it’s killing our marine life and ultimately us.
“Humans consume about a credit card worth of plastic every single week, because we’re consuming so many things from plastic items,” said Waks.
Waks added that more and more consumers are looking for ways to reduce their plastic footprint.
“Consumers want to do something about the plastic pollution problem,” said Waks. “But a lot of the time they find it hard to do so and they want businesses to provide them with the opportunity so that they can help our environment.”
That’s where Plastic Free 305 steps in. Consumers can log on the county’s website and discover which businesses have taken the pledge.
“So businesses, when they switch to reusable and they ditch disposable, they actually save money, 100 percent guaranteed,” said Waki. “We have a calculator on our website that you can use to discover how quickly you’ll get a return on investment in your reusable at your establishment.”
It’s working for Pubbelly Sushi. The restaurant group went mostly plastic free two years ago when Miami Beach launched its program.
“We started using these disposable containers to go. We have three different sizes. These are made out of bamboo,” said Sebastian Mesa, General Manager for Pubbelly Sushi. “They’re 100 percent compostable.”
There are also new businesses like Verde Market which offers consumers a place to shop for over 250 household products by only buying the goods, reusing or upcycling empty containers and eliminating plastic waste.
“Simple. Any container, don’t throw it away. You can bring it here and we’ll make sure we can reuse that container as many times as possible,” said Verde Market Founder Pamela Baarrera.
The time to act is now, and if you’re a business owner, your customers, your neighbors, your loved ones, and your planet are counting on you to step up.
“There’s a lot of good humans, and that’s what we’re betting on,” said Barrera.
Signing up for the voluntary program for all businesses operating in Miami-Dade County can be done through the county’s website.