Plastic pollution in the waterways is a big problem in South Florida. It kills marine life, destroys the ecosystem and is an imminent threat to places like Biscayne Bay.
“There’s a misconception that it is the boaters being irresponsible,” said City of Miami Commissioner Ken Russell, who represents District 2. “The majority of plastics and pollution that end up in our bay come from our streets.”
At a news conference along the Miami River in Little Havana Wednesday, the commissioner addressed the problem and announced several new programs to help combat it.
“There are 400 stormwater outfalls, the classic pipes you see, going from the seawall to the [Biscayne] Bay,” Russell said. “Those come directly from the in-falls that are in the streets without any filtration.”
Wednesday, the city announced its partnership with the Ocean Conservancy and Ph.D. students from the University of Georgia and Florida International University to find ways to prevent plastics from entering the water, which is ultimately destroying the Biscayne Bay.
“It’s a multifaceted problem,” said Melinda Paduani, a PhD student in FIU’s Earth and Environment Department. “And there’s certain kinds that you see. There’s lots of the single use plastics. So, from me looking in, it seems that those are the most problematic items.”
“We are actually looking at a holistic picture of how plastic is used in the city,” said Jenna Jambeck, who is a professor at the University of Georgia and leading the group of researchers. “What people feel and think about plastic. How waste is managed. And then if there’s alternatives to people. And then what we find on the ground.”
It’s not hard to find trash on the ground and clogged in drains, causing flooding and environmental problems. The city plans to install filters to prevent trash from reaching the water. It is a program that will cost $270,000.
“These are grates that keep bottles and debris from getting into the stormwater system,” Russell said. “We are looking at the outfall system and we are considering a pilot program which will have nets trapping the outfalls. So that anything getting out into the bay hits those nets first and they can be cleaned on a regular basis.”
Christine Rupp is with the Dade Heritage Trust and she is tasked with preserving neighborhoods in Miami, like Little Havana. She and her organization are trying to educate the community about the importance of keeping their streets clean from clutter.
“If we can all work together to provide a healthier, cleaner Little Havana, this neighborhood is going to start to be more attractive to that kind of investment that understands that the preservation of these historic buildings and what they offer is key to a better Miami,” Rupp said.