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Written by: Maddie Kaufman

That’s a wrap on our Hialeah #PlasticFreeCities cohort – what an amazing semester! In case you missed it, Plastic Free Cities is our NOAA-funded project in collaboration with Ocean Conservancy and Big Blue & You, where high school students are empowered to stop plastic pollution in their community through business consulting and sustainability events. Read more about the details of this project in our earlier blog post here.

We are very excited to provide you all with an update on all that we have accomplished thanks to our students’ work in Hialeah, and what’s coming next! We want to give a huge thank you to our students from Jose Marti Mast and Hialeah Senior High, and their teachers Andy Kearns and Julissa Estrella, for their participation in this project.

Student Training

Student training consisted of five 1-hour workshops at both schools, where we covered a variety of topics including plastic pollution basics, solutions to marine debris, sustainable business theory, public speaking, and more. We engaged 43 unique students over the course of these trainings, amassing a total of 144 student volunteer hours. Moreover, 32 of these students signed plastic-free pledges, committing to lifestyle changes to reduce their own plastic consumption. Students completed anonymous surveys at the end of the training period, and the majority of participants reported increases in plastic pollution knowledge, sustainable business knowledge, and comfort with public speaking.

Student training at Hialeah Senior High
Acting out business visit scenarios with Jose Marti Mast (in wigs to get into character!)
Showing students sustainable business product samples

Student Canvassing

During canvassing sessions our students visited businesses by their campuses, surveyed their plastic use, provided sustainable business recommendations, and encouraged them to sign up for Plastic Free 305! Throughout 5 days of canvassing, they visited and surveyed 31 unique businesses and provided recommendations to 7 interested businesses during follow up visits. They are now working with 2 businesses on purchasing reusables, and signed 1 business up for Plastic Free 305– way to go El Sarten Restaurant & Lounge!

One thing we realized during canvassing was that many businesses are currently using all reusable tableware for dine in- which is amazing! Unfortunately, we also realized that switching to plastic-free, biodegradable disposables for carryout is currently cost-prohibitive for many small businesses. At the time of canvassing, Tier 1 of Plastic Free 305 required that a business eliminate at least one plastic item, but we wanted to be able to recognize businesses that are doing as much as they can within their bottom line. We touched base with staff from Miami-Dade County, and they are now working on changing the Tier 1 requirements to recognize businesses implementing any plastic-reduction effort, such as using all reusables for dine-in! We are excited to return to many businesses and sign them up for Tier 1 once this change is implemented 🙂

Jose Marti Mast students gearing up for an afternoon of business canvassing
Hialeah Senior High students surveying plastic use at Vicky Bakery
Hialeah Senior High students celebrating a successful afternoon of business canvassing

Community Events

As part of Plastic Free Cities, participating students helped to plan and host sustainable lifestyle events with their community. Hialeah Senior High students hosted a Baynanza Cleanup at Amelia Earhart Park, and Jose Marti Mast students hosted an Earth Day Celebration on their campus – check out a blog post recapping these events here, written by Plastic Free Cities student Alejandro Ganaza!

More than 600 community members participated in these events, including local elected officials Senator Rene Garcia and Councilman Bryan Calvo! Local 10 News also joined to cover the cleanup, and over 80 lbs of debris were picked up from our inland environments, preventing this trash from washing into our storm drains, canals, and ultimately into our oceans.

A huge crowd joined for Jose Marti Mast’s Earth Day Celebration
Thank you Senator Garcia and Councilman Calvo for coming out to Hialeah Senior High’s cleanup!
Jose Marti Mast PFC students giving out plastic-free bites from one of the businesses that they surveyed

Graduation Celebration

We had the most amazing time celebrating our Plastic Free Cities graduates at Goodlet Park earlier this month! Senator Garcia attended and spoke, and presented the students with an official Tribute from Miami-Dade County, highlighting their efforts to “stop the use of single-use plastic and make Miami-Dade County a healthier destination to live, work, and play.” Councilman Calvo also attended and spoke, and presented the Plastic Free Cities nonprofit partners (DFO, Ocean Conservancy, and Big Blue & You) with Certificates of Appreciation from the City of Hialeah for our ““support in plastic reduction and community cleanups…and helping make Hialeah a Plastic Free City!” Miami-Dade County’s Department of Environmental Resource Management also gifted our graduates reusable Plastic Free 305 bags with free tickets to local parks and the Miami Zoo.

Our team shared highlights from the semester, and Plastic Free Cities mentors Alejandro Ganaza and Alexia Lorie spoke about their favorite parts of the program and how they will continue to grow Plastic Free Cities at their school moving forward. Then each graduate received certificates of completion and our amazing teacher leads Andy & Julissa received certificates of appreciation. After the ceremony, we all enjoyed delicious plastic-free bites from Mi Sandwich Cubano, a local business who worked with our students this semester.

Students, nonprofit leads, Senator Garcia, and Councilman Calvo with their Tribute from Miami-Dade County
Councilman Calvo and PFC nonprofit leads with their Certificates of Appreciation from City of Hialeah
Plastic Free Cities mentors Alexia and Ale speaking about their favorite parts of the program

What’s Next

…so many exciting things! For one, Alexia and Ale will be joining the Plastic Free Cities mentorship program to build leadership skills and continue to grow the movement. Alexia will be starting a Plastic Free Cities club at her school to keep up the momentum at Jose Marti Mast, and Alejandro will be helping to train and oversee our next cohort of students in Doral.

Yes- Plastic Free Cities is coming to City of Doral this Fall! We will be working with Doral Academy and Downtown Doral Upper Charter School, to train a new group of students to encourage businesses in their community to reduce their reliance on single-use plastics and engage their friends, family, and neighbors in sustainability events. Stay tuned for updates, and thank you all for your support of this initiative.

Let’s build Plastic Free Cities together!