MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – The United Nations General Assembly happening in New York City right now is addressing the global plastic crisis and the 8,000,000 metric tons of plastics that enter the ocean every year.
While the global community scrambles to find a solution to reverse this trend last Saturday, hundreds of volunteers sweated it out across South Florida to tackle this problem here at home.
More than 22,000 lbs. of trash were picked up from our shorelines, streets and waterways in just one day, but all of that is unfortunately just a drop in the bucket.
“We don’t think that this is going to solve the problems,” said VolunteerCleanup co-founder Dave Doebler. “But this creates an eye-opening experience for people to see firsthand how much trash and plastic is entering our oceans and our bay, every single day.”
It is a growing crisis, which grew this global mission: Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup Day, now in its 37th year, has brought communities together from 150 countries to clean up our planet.
The problem is we’re in the grips of a global plastic crisis. In Florida, on average, 7,000 tons of plastic enters our marine environment every single year.
Bottle caps were the number one item collected last weekend, surpassing cigarette butts. Plastic water and beverage bottles were number three.
“We find a lot of the single use plastics and that’s extremely problematic,” said volunteer John Hatzis.
It’s takes 450 years for plastic to biodegrade, and recycling is not the answer. Less than nine percent of all global plastic is ever recycled. The majority ends up polluting our planet, showing up in the ocean and our coastlines.
“It shows me that we need to make a change because we are completely trashing the world and we need to fix that,” said Miami Senior High volunteer Aliya Sakhrani.
“And so the message is we’re all in this together,” added Miami-Dade Chief Bay Officer Irela Bague. “And so we really need to do our part and lower our consumption of single use plastics.”
And it is everywhere, from Hollywood Beach, where volunteers from Free Our Seas removed 928 lbs., to the waterways of Coral Gables and east Greynold’s Park.
“We picked up over 540 lbs. of trash and we’re still going,” said Shannon Jones one of the volunteers from the Frost Museum of Science.
Clean This Beach Up joined forces with Revolution 93.5 FM to clean up the MacArthur Causeway.
“It’s really sad,” said Clean This Beach Up Founder Maria Algarra. “To be honest, this is one of the dirtiest spots in South Florida. And most of the pollution has been here for decades.”
“I really hope that people understand that we have to stop and learn that what we’re doing is wrong,” said Revolution 93.5 FM owner Marco Mazzoli.
The problem starts inland. Eighty percent of all marine debris comes from the land; trash people just throw on the street.
“I think people are turned on and turned on and understanding that what is in this bay comes from the land, everything you drop on the land goes into the bay,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.
From Westchester to Little Haiti, that message was received loud and clear.
“We just picked up 326 lbs. and with just 20 volunteers,” said Matthew Mattia with Love Hope Music who spearheaded the clean up near Lincoln’s Beard Bewery off Bird Road.
“That’s why it’s really important for us to clean up our neighborhoods,” said Captain Haiti aka Nandy Martin who organized a cleanup off NE second avenue and 59th street. “It’s your responsibility to take care of the trash or plastic bottles, even if you’re not the one that threw it down.”
The lobsters who live in our South Florida marine environment will thank you, so will the dolphins, the manatees, the turtles, the fish and the sharks.
The marine litter epidemic gripping South Florida perhaps never more evident than in some of the mangroves of Key Biscayne, where seventy volunteers of all ages from Fill A Bag used kayaks and paddleboards to pulled out 1300 lbs. of trash.
But the biggest haul came from the Julia Tuttle Causeway, where 109 volunteers from Clean Miami Beach picked up a whopping 2700 lbs. of trash.
The alarm bells are loudly ringing. South Florida, we must do better.
“We have to take pride in our community every single day are treated with the respect and the love that we have for this city,” said Doebler.
Doebler says the great takeaway is that fifty percent of all volunteers are first timers. And data shows that first time volunteers often return and bring friends and family with them, organically growing this most important eco-army and the Herculean task of restoring balance to our natural world.
And you don’t have to wait until next year’s International Coastal Cleanup Day to get involved. There are clean ups happening every weekend here in South Florida, and for more info on how you can get involved, visit https://www.volunteercleanup.org/find.