Mission: Miami Beach

Miami Beach medical student targets bars with recycling initiative.

Despite its liberal reputation, Miami Beach, Fla., has been slow to join the recycling movement that's taken hold in other parts of the country. Neha Patel, a third-year medical student at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, was dismayed at what she found when she moved to the area last year.

“It just seemed like the ideal place that people would want to recycle since it's so sleek and young and hip,” says Patel. “And I was alarmed to see that not only was it difficult to recycle in my residential facility, none of the bars, none of the restaurants — NOBODY recycles here.”

Doing some legwork, Patel discovered a 1992 law mandating that all residential and commercial establishments recycle. But it had never been properly enforced. “I also learned that it was actually cheaper to recycle, meaning that the government forces waste haulers to charge less for recycling versus garbage hauling to provide incentives for recycling,” says Patel. “So then I thought, okay, this is a project that is worth doing.”

With the help of the Environmental Coalition of Miami Beach (ECOMB), she decided to approach the city's bars, one of the biggest generators of bottles and cans, in an effort to get them to recycle. She received a $1,000 grant from Hands on Miami's Starbucks Youth Philanthropy Committee to create a three-month pilot program. The incentive-based program, titled “Raise the Bar,” was modeled after Philadelphia-based RecycleBank. Participating bars would receive 10 cents for every bottle or can collected in the first month of the program and would be provided with free collection service thereafter, made possible by a partnership with Miami-based World Waste Services (WWS), which also donated a 96-gallon outdoor recycling container for each bar. Nevertheless, Patel says a big barrier to recycling in the city is a lack of awareness about the law and the cost savings recycling offers. Several of the bars approached were resistant, even hostile to the idea: “They were like, ‘Look, we don't have space. We don't have time. We're not interested. Please go away.’ It's pretty appalling considering we were offering them free services.”

Eventually four South Beach bars (running the gamut from Irish pub to dive bar to upscale lounge) were recruited, and the program launched on Earth Day (April 22, 2009). In addition to the large outdoor carts, each bar received two bins for interior collection. WWS services each location twice per week. In the program's first two weeks, more than 6,500 bottles and cans were recycled. Even the smallest bar is producing 800 - 1,000 bottles and cans a week.

Beyond the actual collection, though, Patel (who can be reached at [email protected]) hopes Raise the Bar raises Miami's awareness of recycling as part of a sustainable lifestyle.

“I just want people to be aware that it's so easy to do — it's so necessary to do.”

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