A decade ago, a dedicated Miami Beach couple, Dave Doebler and Dara Schoenwald, embarked on a mission to resolve the growing pollution issue along the picturesque waterways of Miami. Their passion for environmental conservation eventually became a shared drive, a collective action leading to the foundation of VolunteerCleanup.org, a nonprofit platform. VolunteerCleanup.org has been serving as a rallying platform for citizens who are concerned about the cause and are willing to be involved in the transformative cleanup of the waterways. 

Sharing his views on the ongoing cleanup initiative, Dave Doebler, a former sales director at a cyber security firm, stated, “We believe that in order to solve this problem, it takes action from individuals, businesses, and government.” 

Through the concerted efforts of numerous citizens, these cleanups have fostered a sense of community involvement. The initiative has also instigated pivotal shifts in corporate and governmental policies. Some of the influential decision-makers who actively participated in these cleanups were inspired and implemented progressive measures against the usage of single-use plastics. 

This massive cleanup movement achieved a milestone 6 years back when Dan Gelber, the current mayor of Miami Beach, participated in the cleanup effort on the MacArthur Causeway alongside Doebler, Schoenwald, and a group of dedicated volunteers. This combined initiative resulted in removing a staggering 1,300 pounds of trash from the waterways. It also served as a wake-up call to address the pressing issue of water pollution. 

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Offering a glimpse of his journey in this cleanup effort, Doebler revealed, “During election season, we invite candidates on cleanups so that they can see the problem firsthand.” He added, “We also help them lead their own cleanups so that they are engaging with the local community and show that they are problem solvers.” 

Gelber and the Miami Beach City Commission, inspired by their firsthand experience, spearheaded the Plastic Free Miami Beach business incentive campaign. It was dedicated to prohibiting the use of plastic straws and styrofoam within the city limits. They also fuelled a significant shift from Coca-Cola to Pepsi products to ensure only 100% plastic-free bottles are available in the city. 

Apart from the plastic waste, the impact of discarded cigarette butts also poses a major threat to the waterways. Studies conducted by Keep America Beautiful revealed that cigarette butts were responsible for almost 20% of all litter in the city, and a significant portion of it ended up polluting the scenic waterways. Responding to this, the Miami Beach City Commission issued a ban on smoking on the beaches, which proved an essential step in preserving the pristine beauty of Miami’s coastal areas. 

Community leaders such as Irela Bague, chief bay officer for Miami-Dade County, have been proactively involved in this cleanup to further strengthen the ongoing efforts, enhancing the condition of the iconic Biscayne Bay. Bague worked closely with Doebler and Schoenwald to advocate for this transformative initiative, which led to policy reforms to safeguard the bay’s delicate marine ecosystem. 

“Everybody has a role to play. We’re really proud of the community and the ability to provide a stepping stone into environmentalism,” remarked Doebler, reflecting on the accomplishment of this cleanup initiative. 

The ripple effect of this cleanup movement transcended governmental spheres to influence the corporate world. As a result, the campaign saw the active participation of Knight Foundation team members in a paddle cleanup, ending up in the phased elimination of bottled water from their offices, showing their growing awareness and commitment to sustainable practices. 

Initiated by a dedicated couple, the Miami waterways cleanups turned into community engagement, sparking a collective environmental consciousness. The initiative has also instigated instrumental policy changes, a welcoming change for preserving the beauty of Miami’s waterways for generations to come.