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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Plastics are becoming increasingly damaging to our environment, oceans and waterways, marine and wildlife animals. Even ourselves.

The Ecology Center estimates 18-billion pounds of plastic trash enters the world’s oceans in coastal areas alone. And new research shows the long-term impact of plastic in the food chain, and how it impacts our health and food safety.

About 40-percent of all plastic is used in packaging, much of that used just once, then tossed out. And, we recycle less than a fifth of all plastic.

But more cities and companies across the country are looking for and implementing solutions, including banning plastics altogether. That includes right here in South Florida.

“It seems to be gaining a lot of momentum,” says Alexis Brouwer of the environmental non-profit, Surfrider Foundation. Brouwer has made cleaning up the environment one of her life’s missions.

What’s gaining momentum are the plastics bans implemented across South Florida. Plastics like straws, bags, water bottles and other trash that harms the environment, our waterways and inevitably kill marine life.

Brouwer demonstrates piled trash on part of the seawall on Biscayne Bay just off the Julia Tuttle Causeway.

“Over there by the sea wall, there is a ramp and it is really clear there is a huge pile of plastic trash and the current just brings it in,” Brouwer explains. “I find the biggest problem with plastics is that they never bio-degrade.”

Get Green Now finds that in 2017, Americans used 500 million plastic straws each day. Plastic straws are the 11th most-found trash in the ocean. And, it’s estimated each year plastics kill one-million seabirds like pelicans and 100,000 marine animals like fish and turtles.

Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean are the main attractions on Miami Beach. The City recently implemented a plastics-free campaign. So far, more than 70 businesses are already on board.

“The cleanliness and the health of our environment is paramount,” says Elizabeth Wheaton, the City’s Director of Environment & Sustainability. “When people come to our city they want to see a clean beach. When they see our waterways in Biscayne Bay, they wanna have clean water to swim in.”

The 1 Hotel South Beach has long been environmentally proactive.

“There is only one planet and we want to take care of it,” says Milton Sgarbi of 1 Hotel. “It is a theme that is more and more relevant in the world. And we do a couple of things that were put in place to bring forth that message. One of them, eliminating plastic bottles, eliminating plastic straws.”

Taste Café right next to Miami Beach City Hall is preparing to stop using plastics, even if switching to paper straws is more expensive.

“Personally I feel like saving the environment is one of the most important things that we can do right now in our lifetime,” says owner Adi Thakore. “Business owners have to take the initiative first and put those things in place.”

Down south in the Village of Pinecrest officials just passed a law prohibiting the use, distribution, and sale of plastic straws. It kicked in January 1, 2019.

“It is something that is gonna signal change in the future,” explained Pinecrest spokeswoman, Michelle Hammontree. “And the only way that we are going to start is by taking a step forward towards sustainability. No matter how small that step may seem.”

Around the corner on U.S.1. Shula Burger is already making the transition. Owner Lisa Abbott is helping spearhead the Village-wide change.

“We are still on our last dying breath of the plastic straws and we are not ordering anymore,” Abbott says. “We have been testing out some of them over the past few
months, and we have requested from five different vendors, different types of what we might use.”

Besides Miami Beach and Pinecrest, others in Miami-Dade banning plastic straws include Coral Gables and Surfside.

And in Broward, Hallandale Beach and Hollywood Beach are in on it, too.

“I actually carry the stainless steal ones. I keep some in my home and I keep some in my glove box,” says Surfrider’s Alexis Brouwer of reusable straws. “There is so many biodegradable options out there, that it is silly to keep using the plastic straws.”

Polystyrene, more commonly called styrofoam, also hugely impacts the environment and our waterways. Miami Beach banned it long ago. Hollywood Beach just banned it and Pinecrest is working on it next.

By Donna Rapado

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