By Bryan Hayes
Down south, in Miami Beach, resides Michael DeFilippi. Local leader and committed activist, Michael has been active in making Miami Beach a better place and is equally dedicated to all of South Florida’s environment. He is the creator of the group, Clean Up Miami Beach, which brings together residents in an effort to both clean up and protect the city’s beach and water.
Michael began to look around years ago, and “I just noticed how dirty much of Miami-Dade County was – especially Miami Beach. I noticed how much trash there was on the streets, and then all that goes into the drainage system.” He realized that simply cleaning up the trash was not being proactive, but rather reactive.
Michael’s focus is on creating initiatives to protect the waterways and the environment. It is through proactive action that real change is brought about. The importance of real change, according to the World Economic Forum (a non-profit organization), is that by the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the water than fish. 2050 may seem like a long way off but it is in most of our lifetimes. 34 years is much closer than we realize.
“The report finds that most plastic packaging is used only once; 95% of the value of plastic packaging material – worth $80 billion-$120 billion annually – is lost to the economy after a short first use.”
Plastic, as well as other trash, has a devastating impact on the environment. This is especially true in Florida since we are connected through the waterways. The storm drains? Where do they flow to? And, what happens to everything that goes into those storm drains? Only a percentage of that is water! Where does the rest come from?
When someone litters on the street or garbage is blown out of the back of the trash truck it goes somewhere. While some of it is left on the street, which is bad enough, the rest goes down the drain (quite literally). Driving in the car, it is easy to miss all that is lying around on the sides of the streets. This is true not only in Miami but in many of our roads as well.
“People might be curious because the City of Wellington is farther west, but the reality is that it is connected to a body of water.” Michael clarifies a misconception. “So, what ends up in the streets, be it oil or whatever, is dumped into the drainage system. We absolutely need to protect what is getting in the storm drain system, and to keep clean the system within Wellington.”
One of the smallest, yet biggest issues is cigarette butts. “The number one most littered item in the world is cigarette butts,” said Michael. “We spent just one day in Miami Beach picking up cigarette butts and picked up thousands.”
The issue with cigarette butts is that they are not biodegradable. Their impact is significant, in part, due to being made of plastic. When going to the beach, do you notice the little pieces of plastic that are strewn about? Those are micro plastic, and as Michael added, “micro-plastics are plastics that were larger at one point, were floating in the ocean, and eventually were broken down to smaller pieces that have made their way to the shore.”
What each community fails to contribute is as much a part of the problem as the problem itself. A company in Miami offers a product that covers the storm drain keeping out the unwanted trash but allows the water to go down the drain. This storm drain catch system is but one way to be proactive.
Other ways you can make an impact is to take action by organizing group cleanups where there is a large amount of trash. When you go to the beach, it may not be your trash you are picking up, but it is collectively our beach – and our planet. You can go further and make an even bigger impact by becoming actively involved in local government and being part of the process, as Michael is doing.
We can choose to be proactive, we can choose to be reactive and/or we can choose to do nothing. We have a limited amount of time to make our choice. Every day we are one day closer to 2050. It is closer than we think.