Environmentalists, businesses, and volunteers push to make Miami environmentally conscious

Miami, a tourist hotspot year-round, is home to beautiful island-like scenery. Endless beaches and palm trees surround the city, but millions of tourists who come to enjoy its paradise features leave behind a carbon footprint that endangers the environment.

Visit Florida, a tourism marketing agency, found that 135 million tourists visited the state in 2023. According to the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, 26.5 million people visited Miami-Dade County in 2022. 

The Magic City is home to some of the biggest music festivals and sporting events that attract people worldwide. However, with big crowds in town comes the environmental damage and increase in pollution both event planners and tourists leave behind.

“Tourism has a huge impact on Florida’s environment,” said Thomas Dunn, an environmental scientist. With so many visitors coming in, we see a lot of resources being used and we also see a lot of waste being generated, which leads to all the pollution being created.”

Popular annual events like the Miami International Boat Show, Art Basel, the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, and Ultra Music Festival are all near the ocean; they produce waste that could enter our waterways. According to Miami-Dade County, 11 million metric tons of plastic ends up in the bays, beaches, and ocean each year.

Teaching locals and visitors the value of conservation and responsible tourism can help build a culture of environmental consciousness in Miami. Dunn said he’s seen the correlation between consistent tourism and environmental decline.

“On one hand, we’re dealing with some challenges that are always there, like a constant strain on resources that comes with having all these tourists, but on the other hand, things can get even tougher during peak seasons or when big events are happening,” Dunn said. 

Big events like the Miami Open, Formula 1 racing, and Rolling Loud held at the Hard Rock Stadium bring some of the biggest stars that many from other cities are willing to travel to see in person.  Hotels and restaurants are two of the largest hospitality industries when it comes to welcoming guests to South Florida. According to STR, the industry leader in hotel data, Miami-Dade County ranked fifth place nationwide for hotel markets in 2022. The report found that the county averaged a hotel occupancy rate of 72% that year. 

“We as Miami residents generate four more pounds of waste than the average American and then tourists come and double those numbers,” said Yadira Diaz, founder of Gradible, a Miami-based environmental concierge.

With more people booking hotels, hospitality services are producing more energy, water, and waste instead of practicing environmentally friendly behaviors. Gradible teams up with hotels, music festivals, and event planners to help integrate eco-friendly practices.

“With tourism, I feel like hotels have an obligation and a responsibility to make sure they’re not trashing our neighborhoods,” Diaz said.

Diaz recently branched out into the entertainment industry and found that night clubs have an interest in going green. This year, the team partnered with Club Space to sort through materials to recycle it properly. Diaz said they filled 35 bags that totaled about 4,000 pounds of plastic, aluminum, film, and glass. 

“We’re taking it a step further because that material is going to be upcycled into things like apparel, hats, and operational items like trash cans,” said Diaz.

Josh Buschman, co-director of the Global Sustainable Tourism Program at Florida International University, is on the front of making events more sustainable with his going-green business. The  Sustainable Events Network participated in the South Beach Food & Wine Festival in February. The team’s main sustainable efforts include food rescue, which has led to partnerships with MGM Resorts at larger-scale events and hotels in Las Vegas.

“Rather than letting it flow into the waste stream, throwing it out, and dumping it down the drain, we work to save it,” said Buschman.

Clean-up organizations like Keep Coral Gables Beautiful and VolunteerCleanup.Org have volunteers who are essential for environmental improvement in Miami. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, waste workers in 2022 picked up 5.1 million tons of solid waste in Miami-Dade County. About 3.1 million tons of that waste went to landfills in the county that same year.

Dave Dobler, co-founder of VolunteerCleanup.Org, played a role in the styrofoam ban that went into effect in Miami Beach in 2017.  Dobler started the organization after he picked up 75 to 100 pounds of trash while kayaking in Miami. He now leads a team of volunteers who want to participate in cleanups or host their own events. 

“We use the cleanups as an eye-opening experience to show people firsthand how much plastic trash is in our oceans,” said Dobler. “We consider the cleanups and introduction to marine debris as a stepping stone into environmentalism because it’s something you can take action on and it exposes you to the delicate nature of our shared ecosystem.”

While a clean community may seem unreachable, small eco-friendly habits could be a game-changer for the future of Miami. Simply remember to be mindful of reducing the amount of waste produced, water used, and energy wasted.

Gabriela Salinas is a bilingual student journalist at Florida International University pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Digital Journalism on a pre-law track. She has gained experience in the legal and communications field through internships at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office and the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce.