Volunteers clean up tons of trash in Miami during International Coastal Cleanup Day

Luis Garcia picked up trash from Florida International University's Biscayne Bay campus with his two sons, Sebastian Garcia, middle, and Sergio Garcia, on Saturday, during the Miami-Dade Coastal Cleanup, part of International Coastal Cleanup Day. ‘We need to take care of the environment, for us and for our future generations,’ Luis said.
Luis Garcia picked up trash from Florida International University's Biscayne Bay campus with his two sons, Sebastian Garcia, middle, and Sergio Garcia, on Saturday, during the Miami-Dade Coastal Cleanup, part of International Coastal Cleanup Day. ‘We need to take care of the environment, for us and for our future generations,’ Luis said. For the Miami Herald

During the 30th annual International Coastal Cleanup Day, about 2,400 volunteers of all ages Saturday helped beautify more than 30 miles of coastline at 40 sites in Miami-Dade County — by picking up 10 to 12 tons of trash and recyclable materials.

The preliminary results, according to VolunteerCleanup.org, an online platform run by Dave Doebler and Dara Schoenwald, where people can find and post local cleanup events, show that a couple of Saturday’s cleanups alone pulled in 1,500 pounds of trash in a three- to four-hour period, after weigh-ins. The organization coordinated the county’s involvement in International Coastal Cleanup Day this year.

“The source of all this pollution, especially in the bay, is largely from littering,” Schoenwald said. “People litter, and it ends up in the street, and from the street it blows into the storm drains and out to the bay.”

The litter picked up consisted mainly of plastic shopping bags, plastic water bottles, food wrappers and Styrofoam containers, cigarette butts, straws, bottle caps, beer cans and glass bottles. Tires, roadside delineator markers and other types of nontraditional trash were also bagged by volunteers.

Saturday’s post-cleanup celebration took place at Gramps, a no-frills indoor/outdoor bar in Wynwood. There, the eighth annual Everglades Awareness Benefit Concert featured live music performances and local changemakers of environmental action centered on protecting the Everglades and local waterways. Proceeds went toward Love The Everglades Movement.

Last year, on Sept. 19, 560,000 volunteers in 91 countries picked up more than 16 million pounds of trash along 13,000 miles of coastline, according to the Ocean Conservancy, which spearheaded the largest single-day, worldwide volunteer event of its kind to improve beaches, coastal regions and surrounding areas.

Martin Roch, who teaches environmental and marine science at the Marine Academy of Science and Technology (MAST) at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay campus in North Miami, met with more than 20 of his students in their school’s “backyard” Saturday, where mangroves meet the bay. By noon, they stuffed trash into a dozen heavy-duty bags and put recyclable materials into another 15 bags, covering a quarter-mile radius.

They found a plethora of empty plastic water bottles, chip bags, plastic grocery bags and lots of beer cans and bottles.

“This area is always full of trash because we’re right in front of ‘Beer Can Island,’ where people spend the weekend while boating,” said Roch of the palm-tree lined inlet between FIU and Oleta River State Park. “Most of that trash winds up here.”

Over one third of the total items found Saturday at the sites were recyclable materials and were separated during the collections to be delivered to a recycling plant.

“It’s fun to help out the environment. It adds up,” said 14 year-old MAST freshman Christian Namphy. It was his first time, along with most of his classmates, participating in a cleanup event.

Mr. Roch has a “no plastic water bottle rule” in his classroom. “It does not make sense when you have water that’s free out of the fountain and is perfectly safe to drink,” Roch said.

Abu Chowbhury, 14, also a freshman at MAST, drinks out of a Camelbak hydration pack, which looks like a small backpack, opting for the three liters of water it can hold as opposed to drinking from a plastic water bottle.

“It’s super lightweight; you can’t even feel all that water on your back,” he said.

“Water in Dade County has to be tested numerous times per day,” Roch said. “Water in plastic bottle is up to the company to test. You don’t know what you’re getting. A lot of times the plastic from the bottles leak chemicals into the water, so you may be drinking something that’s harmful.”

The EPA estimates that plastics make up “almost 13 percent of the municipal solid waste stream, a dramatic increase from 1960, when plastics were less than 1 percent of the waste stream.”

“Most of it ends up in a landfill and a lot of it ends up in the ocean. It takes hundreds of years to degrade depending on plastic,” Roch said. “Recycling is not the answer — reducing is.”

Doebler explains how the litter affects marine life, stressing the dangers of floating plastic pieces, which become brittle under the sun and separate into tiny pieces.

“Usually those plastic items are floatable, and so they float to the top of the water and are not biodegradable. They actually break down with sunlight, then, two things happen — one is that animals will nibble on items that they think are food.”

In one example, he illustrates how plastic bags, to a turtle, look like jellyfish. “And turtles love jellyfish, so they mistake a plastic bag for a jellyfish,” he said.

“What ends of happening is those plastic pieces clog up an animal’s digestive tract,” he said. “Also, the chemicals are absorbed into the bloodstream of the animals, which enters our food chain. So when we eat a fish that ingested plastic, we are essentially eating that plastic.”

His advice for people who want to be better stewards of the environment is for them to make the initiative to educate themselves so they can, in turn, teach others in order to effect a bigger, positive change.

“People need to see the problem,” he said, “and you can start by just attending a cleanup.”

He said from that first step, people can then go back into their personal lives and make individual changes, such as not buying bottled water and using a reusable canteen instead, or using reusable shopping bags for groceries as opposed to plastic ones.

“When you go to a cleanup and you pick up 50 plastic bags out of a mangrove, you’ll probably realize that you want to use reusable shopping bags from then on.”

After personal changes comes influencing others, such as family and friends, he said. “If you realize that cigarette butts are not biodegradable because you’d learn that from our cleanups, and if you have a smoker that you love, then you’re going to educate them about disposing of their butts properly. Third, think about what you can do on a bigger level — like starting your own cleanup group.”

The final tidbit — “Be engaged with your city government; get in front of commissioners; share your ideas.”

“We’re creating awareness, a consciousness of consumption behavior patterns,” Schoenwald said of how many single-use disposable items of convenience people utilize in their daily lives.

“Bring your own bags to the grocery store, carry a reusable beverage bottle and refill it,” she said, “because those are the top things we tend to find in cleanups — plastic bottles, bottle caps and plastic bags.”

“Those are two areas where it’s really easy for people to cut down on their waste,” she said.

How to join in

To host or join a cleanup near you, visit www.volunteercleanup.org/