While plastic production is expected to double by 2040, we can, and must, change how we make and manage plastic pollution. From recycling machines to bamboo to-go boxes to hot pink composting buckets to plastic poetry -- learn how Miami and its locals are dealing with waste more responsibly.
The original article is published in Impact.Edition Magazine, Issue 02, 2023
Next to Devia Juice Bar, found at Midtown Garden Center, you can always find the eye-catching pink bins with the attractive and instructive label Compost for Life. This cooperation between two innovative organizations began when siblings Diana and Juan Diego Devia decided to make their small business 100% plastic-free and divert their organic pulp from landfills. Devia Juice Bar serves their delicious blended superfoods in biodegradable cups and bowls that directly go to compost.
Food waste is one of the largest sources of methane emissions. Composting is an easy starting point to offset food waste emissions and make a positive impact on environmental and economic levels. When Francisco Torres began his pioneering journey to bring good, reliable, affordable composting options to Miami, commercial composting was not mainstream. Today, the company serves more than 40 businesses, including schools and hospitals, and offers their pick-up residential service, starting at $19.99 per month. You can get a 5-gallon pink bucket to collect your food scraps at home and recycle it into high-quality soil to create a sustainable cycle.
"Composting food scraps is one the best things we can do for our environment. We are a community initiative, who have diverted more than 1 million pounds of food waste from landfills, and our mission is to leave this planet better than how we found it," adds Francisco.
Anastasia Mikhailochkina, the leader of Lean Orb, which specializes in building compostable food service packaging using agricultural waste materials, states that we all “have to shift to compostable materials and start composting so 50% of our waste will become healthy soil instead of landfill waste.”
Her company uses fibers from sugarcane, bamboo, banana leaf, wheat straw, and palm leaf to produce their cups, utensils, plates, and to-go boxes.
"Trash is pricey if you look at all the transportation and storage costs, so it makes sense to reuse our trash to make valuable biomass or fertilizers," Anastasia comments. "Compostable waste is a ‘black gold’ that society is not taking full advantage of."
To the question of whether Miami would be a zero-plastic city one day, Anastasia answers: “The aspiration is noble, but realistically speaking, that should not be our main focus today. We can put energy into responsible production and consumption of products, with an ultimate goal of renewable materials flowing continuously.”
Recycling Is Not a Myth
Michelle Salas, known in Miami-Dade as Lady Green Recycling, has been dealing with local plastic trash since 2008. Lady Green Recycling services more than1,000 locations from Homestead to North Miami and what differentiates Michelle’s approach to recycling is the process customization her company designs for individual clients. Each client receives their own bins with QR codes on them. These QR codes allow Lady Green clients to access personalized videos which explain the recycling process so anyone ranging from children at schools or adults in offices knows how to use the recycling program.
Lady Green Recycling also owns their own plastic shredding and molding machinery, allowing them to shred plastic, make new products, and sell raw materials.
Recycling is not performing at the scope and scale necessary to deliver the climate, economic, and waste management benefits our planet needs. Fixing the system takes a strategy to mobilize collective action.
Plastic production is expected to double by 2040. Unless we change how we make and manage plastics, the problem of plastic pollution will keep growing.
To those who say that recycling is a myth, that it’s not economically & environmentally viable since there are thousands of different types of plastic which cannot be melted down together, and that it costs more to recycle than to produce new plastic, Michelle says we all need to upgrade our mindset:
“Some countries and states have successful recycling programs and prove that recycling systems work. So, we need to ask ourselves, why is it that in the majority of the states in the US, we see a lot of contamination, and why we're not recycling correctly versus these other states?
“We're not saying that recycling is the only solution to the climate crisis, but it's certainly a necessary component. We just need to start asking the right questions and holding everybody accountable, not just consumers but the waste industry, bottle makers, and plastic manufacturers, to make effective recycling systems. Everybody has a role to play here."
According to the Eunomia & Ball Corporation report, the first comprehensive analysis providing an overview of the recycling rates among US states, the three states with the best overall recycling rates were Maine (72%), Vermont (62%), and Massachusetts (55%). Florida recycles only 21% of its waste.
Every state has different policies, different levels of access, and different infrastructure when it comes to recycling, making it exceptionally difficult to drive comprehensive and meaningful change. Still, effective recycling systems can lead to impressive environmental and economic impact and mitigate the packaging pollution crisis. As also noted in the report, recycling could support the reduction of more than 5% of global CO2, which is the equivalent of grounding all commercial flights globally and taking 65% of cars off the road for a year.
In Cycle Tech's case, recycling instantly rewards users for their sustainable behavior. Founded by University of Miami alums, the startup is expanding their network of Reverse Vending Machines to engage locals to make sustainable choices in a moment when people might not have enough opportunities to recycle their products. Whenever you bring an empty bottle (or empty beer can) for recycling, the system rewards you. You can even pay your reward foward by pledging your green compensation tow a charitable cause of your choice right from your iPhone.
The successful on-campus program launched in 2019. Today, Cycle Tech drives their municipal program in the City of Coral Gables in partnership with the Florida Beverage Association. In 2022, Cycle Tech also debuted at DRV PNK Stadium, making it easier for fans to recycle their empty beverage containers and win rewards in return. The process is simple: insert empty beverage containers at the machines, then scan a QR code to get a unique transaction ID. Once information is entered into the web app, users find out instantly if they are a winner and are given instructions for redeeming their prize.
"Sports stadiums are an important part of American culture and represent a unique opportunity to educate and incentivize people to participate in the circular economy. The Cycle team is honored to be collaborating with Heineken USA and Inter Miami CF to launch this first-of-its-kind stadium recycling program," says Anwar Khan, co-founder of Cycle.
Who Created That Trash Monster?
Globally, we buy 54.9 million plastic bottles every hour. If all these empty bottles were collected into a pile, it would be higher than the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (which is the tallest building in the world). When plastic was invented in 1907, the world lacked the foresight to imagine how these highly malleable materials would become highly toxic for the environment; roughly 90% of drinking bottles are never recycled in the United States,so their life continues off our shores and in our oceans.
Scientists estimate 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans every year, choking wildlife while they degrade for the next 500 years.
When Miami-based director and writer Franco Gonzalez created his animated trash monster, he didn't need to go far away. Franco collected trash from the beach and his sister's classroom. That one-minute video took the Sustainability in Action award, powered by Oolite Arts and the City of Miami Beach.
''I wanted audiences to have an emotional connection not only to the monster, in the way it's portrayed, but also intellectually attached to the subject matter. There is something really beautiful that happens when your craft aligns with your purpose," says Franco.
Free Plastic, a local nonprofit driving community engagement, makes even trash poetic. They partnered with O, Miami to install a series of public artworks entitled Plastic Poetry. Each poem is written by a participating student in O, Miami's year-round education program and is displayed on the facade of their schools. Since 2020, the Plastic Poetry program has installed nine recycled poems across Miami and collected over 1,200 pounds of plastic trash.
Volunteer Cleanup connects volunteers with cleanup events and estimates collected plastic in several hundred thousands of pounds. Through their website, you can find six to eight cleanups every single week in Miami-Dade County, led by a network of 80+ groups, including Clean This Beach Up, Send it 4 the Sea, Clean Miami Beach, Seakeepers, and many others.
A tremendous amount of plastic is entering Biscayne Bay through stormwater systems, and the County and its 34 municipalities are cleaning the systems only once every five years – on average.
In 2022, Dave Doebler, co-founder of Volunteer Cleanup, who also serves on the Miami-Dade County Biscayne Bay Watersheld Advisory Board, among others, proposed new legislation to improve stormwater pollution control design and increased maintenance. That proposal was passed by the commission unanimously.
Another big legislative success is a smoking ban on beaches and parks that went into effect on January 1, 2023.
"We realize enforcement will be difficult, but we are hoping the conversation gets smokers to realize that cigarette butts are made of non-biodegradable plastic that must be disposed of properly and that the planet (especially our beach) is not just a big ashtray," says co-founder of Volunteer Cleanup Dara Schoenwald.
"We spend much time identifying, mentoring, and investing in community leaders to help them succeed. When they succeed, they repeat. When they repeat, new people always have an opportunity to get engaged. It's' not about us – it is about all of us."
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