Volunteers remove 31,500 pounds of waste from South Florida beaches

A volunteer organization started by a Miami local has collected and disposed of 31,552 pounds of waste from South Florida beaches since 2019.

Clean This Beach Up, along with more than 20 volunteers equipped with gloves, buckets and trash bags, gathered last month and removed 851 pounds of waste from the small Pace Picnic Island near the city of Miami. That made the group’s total amount of waste removed from South Florida beaches 31,552 pounds.

The group listed the “clean-up” event on the app Eventbrite and invited volunteers to arrive at 10:30 a.m. on a bright Monday morning to remove as much waste as possible from Pace Picnic Island.

Sasha Galvez said she and other volunteers removed piles of used beer cans, cigarette buds, plastic plates, plastic cups and plastic silverware.

“It’s really disgusting, and it’s hard to believe that just anyone, like your friends from school, could come out here and be so irresponsible,” Galvez said. “No one really thinks about where all this litter goes after it’s just left behind. And it’s sad that volunteers are the only ones coming to clean it up.” 

Nicholas Silva, a member of Clean This Beach Up who helps orchestrate the cleanup events, said most of the waste the volunteers removed was from spring-break crowds.

“A lot of the trash we found today is from spring break, and I’m sure we didn’t get all of it,” Silva said. “We’re out here because this is a problem that’s not being solved by the government.”

Maria Algarra, a Columbian immigrant and South Beach resident, said she founded Clean This Beach Up in 2016 with a small group of friends because of her concerns for climate change and her frustrations with the local governments’ response.

“This is a crisis that isn’t being given enough attention, and the government is just trying to save money,” Algarra said. 

Algarra started Clean This Beach Up as a small group of volunteers focused on bringing young people out to clean the beaches, but has since grown to become an organized environmental conservation organization.

“We started with just a few people at our clean ups and since then we’ve grown so big over the last couple of years,” Algarra said. “We now have 17,000 followers on Instagram, and we’re beginning to become more involved with the South Florida community.”

Algarra said Clean This Beach Up has been using social media to bring awareness to climate change, plastic pollution and petitions to get South Florida governments to ban single use plastics, which she said is the single biggest threat to Florida wildlife.

“They’ve banned [many] single-use plastics in Miami Beach, and it works,” she said. “I don’t understand why we can’t do that for all of South Florida.” 

Algarra said Clean This Beach Up has also encountered a rise in waste due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“COVID has made things worse in a lot of ways, but for us it’s the problem of people leaving their masks everywhere that’s really dangerous,” she said. “If you’re not going to wear a mask, at least throw it away properly.”

Algarra said she has high hopes for the future. Clean This Beach Up continues to add new members and host big clean-up events.

“It’s a lot of fun. Everyone always has a good time, and you’re doing something important,” Algarra said. “You save a life for every piece of trash or plastic you pick up.”


CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the year the organization started. 

William Sanchez is majoring in Communications + Journalism at FIU. He is based in Redlands, Florida and is interested in business reporting.