Pick It Up

Newspaper: SunPost
Title: Pick It Up
Author/Reporter: Ben Torter
Date: June 19, 08

The Big Sweep’s message: ‘Don’t leave your butts on the beach’

The sun sparkled off the blue ocean as a couple hundred volunteers wearing sea-foam green T-shirts plucked cigarette butts, plastic straws and bottles, condom wrappers and other trash from sandy South Beach last Saturday morning.

No, this vision wasn’t a hallucination brought on by a lack of sleep and too much sun. It was The Big Sweep, a clean-up competition created by the Environmental Coalition of Miami Beach.

“There is just so much trash in South Beach,” said ECOMB’s tireless executive director Luiz Rodrigues. “People have to take responsibility for their actions which are damaging our environment.”

Participants picked up enough trash to fill 100 large trash bags, and created a mountain of cigarette butts piled on a blue plastic tarp.

Trophies were given out in three categories: One for collecting the most trash, another for the team with the most people, and a third for the group that collected the most cigarette butts.

Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, Commissioner Richard Steinberg and Channel 7 anchor Craig Stevens presented the awards. The team from Royal Caribbean International won for most trash collected. The award for the most volunteers, 85, went to the Fontainbleau Hotel, and Lululemon Athletica won for collecting the most cigarette butts.

“We’ll be back next year to hold on to our trophy,” said Amy Tanner of Lululemon Athletica.

The Big Sweep was a joint effort between ECOMB, the city of Miami Beach, Miami-Dade County and the Boucher Brothers. Winners get to keep the trophies for one year, and must win again or pass them on the following year.

The amount of trash collected showed that the efforts of county and city clean-up crews are falling short. The county is responsible for cleaning the beach east of the dunes, and the city to the west.

Last year, the county proposed eliminating the 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. cleaning crew between the South Point Jetty and 21st Street. Doing so would have eliminated five full-time and three part-time jobs and saved $280,000. The cut was scrapped after activists and Miami-Beach commissioners convinced the county that it would have been a disaster.

Still, many residents complain that the beach is filthy.

“Last Sunday night, we happened to walk on the beach,” said Michael Candito, who lives south of Fifth Street. “It was the most disgusting thing we’ve ever seen. There was so much trash.” A lifeguard told him that the beach around South Point was a mess every Sunday and let him know about The Big Sweep.

Although the beach is the major attraction for tourists from all over the world, politicians say finding the money to keep it properly maintained is tricky.

During a budget meeting Tuesday, Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez warned that beach cleaning will likely be on the chopping block again because shrinking property tax revenues are forcing Miami-Dade County to cut around $200 million from its budget. He said residents and Miami Beach commissioners should be ready to fight.

The city, which must cut $13 million from its budget, is testing sand-sifting tools and other cleaning devices to augment the county’s responsibility. Still, keeping the beach clean is the responsibility of everyone, not just the government.

“Don’t leave your butts on the beach,” Rodrigues said during The Big Sweep awards ceremony. “We don’t litter our homes, and the beach is part of our home.”