Florida Campaign for #PlasticFreeCities Begins in Miami

Community-driven effort to keep ocean and neighborhoods clean in the Sunshine State

Maddie Kaufman is the Program and Outreach Director for Debris Free Oceans and oversees their main programs including sustainable business consulting, education in schools and community outreach events. She received her Master of Science from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Science where she studied coral reef restoration and where she now teaches a restoration course. Maddie also is a PADI Divemaster and American Academy of Underwater Sciences scientific diver.

Emily “Milly” Milton is the Programs Manager for Big Blue & You for which she leads youth recruitment for Plastic Free Cities and assists in the development of other ocean conservation projects utilizing arts, science and media. She earned her Master of Science at University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Science and has a research background in chemical pollution.

As a part of our continued focus on marine debris interventions by local governments in the Sunshine State, we are delighted to announce the launch of Plastic Free Cities, a Florida-focused, community-driven effort to keep our ocean and neighborhoods clean by engaging students, businesses and local governments in the elimination of single-use plastics. This collaborative effort among Ocean Conservancy, Debris Free Oceans and Big Blue & You is possible thanks to funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Program.

Through this project, we are training high school students to help businesses in their neighborhoods eliminate single-use plastics and register them for Miami-Dade County’s Plastic Free 305 program, a certification program for businesses that are voluntarily eliminating single-use plastics. Nearly 40 years of data from Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup® show that the most common items littering our coastlines are single-use plastic products such as bottles, bags, cups and carryout containers. These items are carried to our bays and ocean through storm drains, canals and rivers, where they persist and pose a threat to marine life, human health and local economies. 

The Neighborhoods

The geographic focus of this grant is on five urban-inland municipalities along the Miami River: Hialeah, Hialeah Gardens, Medley, Miami Springs and City of Miami. This watershed approach serves to highlight how our actions on land impact our waterways. Additionally, a large segment of residents in these areas are Hispanic, and to a lesser extent Black or African American; the most common languages spoken are Spanish, English, Haitian Creole and Portuguese. Many of the area’s diverse communities have been historically marginalized, both socially and economically, and their inclusion—as stakeholders, students and businesses—is vital for an equitable and holistic approach to environmental conservation.

Student Training

Each semester we will recruit a cohort of high school students from one to two schools in our neighborhood of focus. These students will participate in five trainings, during which they will learn all about plastic pollution, the business case for eliminating plastics and the steps that a business can take to reduce plastics and waste. They will also be trained in public speaking and how to deliver an elevator pitch so that they are fully prepared to visit businesses in their neighborhoods, inform them of the Plastic Free Cities program and encourage them to participate. If you are interested in getting your school involved, you can email [email protected] or read more about the student involvement in the project in this Big Blue & You blog post.

Business Consulting

After training, the students will participate in business canvassing days. They will visit local establishments, collect data on their plastic use, provide recommendations for eliminating specific plastics, and register them for Plastic Free 305. For businesses that are interested, the Debris Free Oceans sustainability consulting team will conduct follow-up visits to provide additional recommendations, check in and gather feedback. If you own a business in one of our target neighborhoods and are interested in working with the students to eliminate plastics, you can email [email protected] or read more about the sustainability consulting component of the project in this Debris Free Oceans blog post.

Community Events

In addition to business canvassing, each cohort of students will work together to plan and execute a community cleanup event with guidance from the partner nonprofits. These events will be open to the public, including classmates, teachers, friends and family of the students. In addition, the businesses that the students work with will be involved in the events as much as possible through providing plastic-free catering or serving as our meeting point for the cleanup. Participants will collect debris data through Ocean Conservancy’s Clean Swell® app, enhancing our understanding of what type of trash is most abundant within the specific neighborhoods.

To find out about these upcoming events, subscribe to our newsletters (Debris Free OceansBig Blue & You) or head to debrisfreeoceans.org/events

About Plastic Free 305 

Plastic Free 305 is an official business certification program of Miami-Dade County designed to highlight and support local establishments eliminating single-use plastics. This program provides a great way to encourage businesses to eliminate certain plastics in regions like Florida where state government-mandated preemptions prohibit local regulation. Plastic Free 305 was created through the passage of a resolution co-sponsored by Commissioners Eileen Higgins and Raquel Regalado. It was inspired by and mirrored after the City of Miami Beach’s successful #PlasticFreeMB program created by Mayor Dan Gelber, to which Debris Free Oceans, Ocean Conservancy, and Big Blue and You have contributed.

There are three tiers of certification of Plastic Free 305:

  • Tier One: A business pledges to remove one or more eligible single-use plastic product* during the first calendar year of partnership has already removed one single-use plastic product.
  • Tier Two: A business has removed two or more single-use plastic products. *
  • Tier Three: A business is 100% single-use plastics-free.

(* Excluded from this certification are single-use plastics products currently prohibited by local ordinance. Check if your business operates within a city that currently restricts certain single-use plastics items such as straws or plastic bags.)

The products eligible for certification upon business removal include the following: drinking bottles and caps, grocery bags, produce bags, cups, lids, straws, stirrers, cutlery, food wrappers, ramekins/sauce containers and takeout containers. Bioplastics are not an acceptable replacement for these items as they persist in the environment and in-home composts; they break down only in commercial composting facilities which currently do not exist in Florida.

You can view a map of Plastic Free 305 members and register your own business at miamidade.gov/plasticfree305. By reducing single-use plastics in our own homes and businesses, we create cleaner neighborhoods, clearer waterways and healthier ecosystems. Miami residents living within the five neighborhoods of interest should connect with Maggie ([email protected]) about how their schools and businesses can get involved, and everyone can make a difference by reducing single-use plastics in their daily lives or making a pledge to Skip the Straw. Help us build #PlasticFreeCities in Florida!

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