Environmental advocates challenge South Floridians to go plastic-free this July

MIAMI – You may have heard of “Dry January” or “No-Shave November” — but what about “Plastic-Free July”? It’s a challenge each of us can take in order to help protect our planet.

The need has never been more urgent. Our planet is drowning in plastic.

“It’s like the biggest international campaign that encourages the public to reduce single-use plastics,” Maddie Kauffman from Debris Free Oceans said.

A recent study found that right now the world’s oceans are polluted by an estimated 171 trillion pieces of plastic and counting. So Plastic-Free July is challenging all of us to find ways to reduce our use.

“It’s about preventing that plastic from the start, from the source,” Kauffman said.

“We have found plastics in the highest mountains in the world and the deepest trenches in the ocean,” Anja Brandon, the associate director of U.S. plastics policy at Ocean Conservancy, said. “We have also now seen plastics in our own body. We, as humans, are no longer immune from this plastic pollution crisis.”

Ocean Conservancy has organized International Coastal Cleanup Day for 35 years. A recent report detailed the top 10 plastic items collected by volunteers from 1986 through 2021.

The five worst offenders are cigarette butts, topping the list with nearly 60 million found, followed by food wrappers, beverage bottles, plastic bags and bottle caps.

“One of the main findings of this report is that if we actually eliminate these items in the US alone, we would cut out 1.4 million tons of plastic each and every year,” Brandon said.

But to be a sustainable consumer, you need sustainable businesses. That’s why Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood launched its own free environmental consulting service with the help of “Debris-Free Oceans.”

“Seventy-three percent of visitors, tourists, and consumers want to spend their money on sustainable businesses and their products,” Cynthia Seymour, executive director of the Coconut Grove Business Improvement District, said. “We started ‘Blue Grove’ because we wanted to create that connection in people’s minds between our beautiful waterfront community. But part of that awareness includes taking responsibility and making choices that help us.”

So far, four businesses have signed up for the program since last year, including restaurant Minty Z.

Through Blue Grove, the business discovered the reusable “Bekko Box” for its takeout orders. Alex Falco, co-owner of Minty Z, explains, “The customer can rent the Bekko Box for an additional $1 on their to-go order to take it home. And then Bekko Box handles the pickup of reusable containers.”

If a customer opts for renting, all they need to do is contact Bekko Box to pick up the container. From there, it goes back to the business to be used again.

“It has to be now; there’s no time to lose,” Pamela Barrera, founder of Verde Market, said.

Other companies throughout Broward and Miami-Dade also provide ways to go plastic-free. Verde Market allows customers to buy items in bulk while using their containers. They have more than 250 products from food to household products.

There are also zero-waste delivery services like “Green Tomato” and “The Rounds.” Alan Bebchik, General Manager of The Rounds, said, “We want to make it easy for people to be sustainable.”

And while we can’t solve the plastic pollution crisis in just one month, it is on everyone to start taking steps in the right direction.

“Whether it’s remembering to bring your reusable water bottle every once in a while, reminding yourself to bring in that reusable bag to the grocery store, or opting not to use a plastic straw when you are offered one,” Brandon said.

Kauffman suggests, “Pick one thing when you go home to swap out and do that for a couple of weeks, see how it goes, see how much money you save because you’re buying less. And then keep going beyond July throughout the rest of the year.”

Ocean Conservancy hopes that the new study can provide guidance to governments who hope to enact single-use plastic policies. It’s the partnership between businesses, politicians, and individuals that will ultimately move the needle.

In 2008, the state of Florida passed a law preempting local municipalities and counties from banning or even regulating single-use plastics.

That means it really is up to us, the consumer, to make a difference. If we refuse the plastic bag, the plastic beverage bottle, the plastic utensils and food containers, businesses will have to pay attention and step up.

Cities like Miami Beach and even Miami-Dade County, have plastic-free programs, where you can find what businesses have taken the pledge to go plastic-free and support them with your dollars.

About the Author:

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