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Written by: Maddie Kaufman

We are honored to have recently been awarded one of the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Prevention Grants for 2022, funding an exciting 2-year collaborative project between DFO, Ocean Conservancy and the Big Blue & You (the highest funded prevention project this year)! We celebrated the launch of this new program, known as Plastic Free Cities, in October with a community cleanup in Hialeah, Florida – check out Local 10 News’ coverage of this event here. This program relies on an intersectional grassroots approach to mitigating the plastic pollution crisis. By focussing on coalition building, we will educate students on the topics of plastics and sustainability consulting, work with local businesses to reduce plastic use and reliance, and work with Miami-Dade County to recognize those businesses through their Plastic Free 305 program. Plastic Free 305 is a certification program that highlights businesses voluntarily eliminating single-use plastics.

This program was developed collaboratively so that each of the three partner organizations could contribute in different ways using their specialized knowledge and experiences. Debris Free Oceans is responsible for educating the participating students about plastic pollution, training them in sustainable business consulting, and overseeing the student meetings with businesses. We will be working with students from under-resourced schools in Miami-Dade County and consulting businesses within neighborhoods along the Miami River, one of South Florida’s most polluted waterways.

Launch event partners from Big Blue & You, Ocean Conservancy, Kush by Stephens, City of Hialeah, Miami-Dade County, and EcoRenew Solutions
Chief Bay Officer of Miami-Dade County Irela Bague speaking to kick off our launch event
Volunteers cleaning up a canal next to Goodlet Park in Hialeah, preventing waste from flowing into the ocean

Student Training

Before visiting local businesses, the students will undergo comprehensive training to equip them with the skills that they will need to 1) introduce themselves to a business and persuade management to meet with them, 2) conduct a survey of disposable plastic use, 3) provide recommendations on how to reduce plastics and save money, 4) and register the business for Plastic Free 305. These training sessions (co-hosted by the Big Blue & You and DFO) will consist of five 1-hour in-person presentations and workshops, during which we will cover the plastic pollution crisis, plastics policy, sustainable business theory, crafting an elevator pitch + public speaking, and more. These sessions will take place at each school with teachers to ensure students are comfortable, engaged, and enthusiastic about the content.

If you would like to get your school involved, email

Sustainable Business Training at South Broward Elementary
Showing Ransom Everglades samples of biodegradable disposables
Walking DASH students through the plastic survey

Student Canvassing

After participating in these trainings, the students will sign up for business canvassing sessions with Debris Free Oceans. These will take place after school (~2-4 pm) and  will consist of a combination of pre-arranged meetings with businesses and pitching to new businesses on the spot. During each session, groups of students will visit 4-6 businesses to survey their plastic use, provide sustainable business recommendations, and encourage them to sign up for Plastic Free 305! They will also showcase some samples of sustainable swaps for plastic disposables and leave some samples behind with the businesses. After initial meetings, businesses who expressed interest in some of the sustainable practices and materials will be revisited by Debris Free Oceans consultants, who will bring additional information and resources tailored to the business’ needs based on the outcomes of student canvassing.

If you would like to get your business involved, email

Ransom Everglades students talking to LuLus in the Grove about Plastic Free 305
DASH students getting KITH to sign up for #PlasticFreeMB
La Salle showing Harry’s Pizzeria samples of biodegradable disposables

Pilot Programs

We have conducted 2 pilot programs for Plastic Free Cities before and have found them to be wildly successful. Last year, we worked with high school students to recruit Miami Beach businesses to #PlasticFreeMB, the City of Miami Beach’s business certification program that inspired Plastic Free 305, and this Fall, we worked with local students to recruit Coconut Grove businesses to Plastic Free 305.


Debris Free Oceans partnered with the City of Miami Beach to create #PlasticFreeMB in 2019, a tiered business certification program that highlights Miami Beach businesses voluntarily eliminating single-use plastics. This initiative inspired the Miami-Dade County Commission to pass a resolution creating the County’s Plastic Free 305 Program in December of 2021, and this program was officially launched in April of 2022.

In summer of 2021, as part of their Shores Forward programming with the City of Miami Beach, the Ocean Conservancy built upon #PlasticFreeMB by bringing youth advocates from the Design and Architecture Senior High School/Big Blue & You to canvas businesses to join #PlasticFreeMB. Throughout this program, 15 students were able to survey 63 businesses during 4 business canvassing sessions! The students enrolled 12 businesses in #PlasticFreeMB and an additional 20 businesses committed to joining in the future. As most businesses in the area create 100,000 lbs of trash each year, this represents a 1.2 million pound in savings of trash generation! In honor of their efforts, Mayor Dan Gelber designated September 30th as the official Big Blue Crew Day in the City of Miami Beach. Moreover, in a follow up survey, the majority of students said they felt comfortable speaking about plastic pollution and climate change.

Blue Grove

Working with the students was so rewarding and successful that we sought out funding from the Coconut Grove Business Improvement District to bring a similar program to our DFO neighborhood. We worked with Ransom Everglades and Immaculata la Salle to recruit high school juniors and seniors who were interested in sustainability to become Blue Grove Sustainability Consulting Scholars. This program also consisted of student trainings, group business visits, and DFO business follow ups, except we enrolled businesses into #PlasticFree305 instead of #PlasticFreeMB. Over the course of 3 canvassing sessions, we engaged 27 students, reached 53 unique businesses, conducted a total of 81 business visits including repeat/follow up visits, and completed 17 comprehensive plastic surveys. Three businesses signed up for Plastic Free 305 on the spot, and several others committed to doing so once they make their sustainable swaps. The students have already eliminated over 2500 plastic carryout containers and 550 plastic utensils per month. Thank you to Harry’s Pizzeria for switching to biodegradable degradable carryout containers and Buro for switching to wooden cutlery and degradable coffee cups+lids! Harry’s will also be switching to biodegradable hay straws once they run out of their bioplastic straws, which will result in an additional 700 plastic straws eliminated per month, and Buro will be switching to biodegradable coffee cups and aluminum canned water. We are still tabulating our impact so stay tuned for more!

Blue Grove Sustainability Consulting Scholars from Ransom Everglades and La Salle
Proclamation of Big Blue Crew day in Miami Beach in honor of DASH students
DASH Plastic Free MVPs from #PlasticFreeMB Pilot

DFO Sustainability Consulting

Sustainability Consulting is central to our mission at Debris Free Oceans. We have been working with businesses since 2015 trying to eliminate plastic waste and lower reliance on single-use plastics. Throughout our programs, we have worked with students all over the city, large businesses, and local government. In Doral, students at Doral Academy Preparatory School eliminated 5000 plastic food trays per day. We have worked with large businesses like Wynwood Yard, The Rusty Pelican, and Whiskey Joes to eliminate plastic items. Since our inception, we have eliminated over 2.1 million pieces of plastic, and that is just the beginning. We are so excited to be bringing you our latest program, Plastic Free Cities, so we can continue tackling such a crucial issue and empowering our community to do the same.