By Klara Gomez
Michael DeFilippi is a leader and activist based in Miami Beach. His group Clean Up Miami Beach brings neighbors together in an effort to keep our city, beaches and waterways clean. An appointed member of the Miami Beach Sustainability Committee, Michael ran a grass-roots campaign for the Miami Beach Commission in 2015 and continues to work hard as an advocate for residents in the area.
How did you become interested in the issues concerning our environment?
I was tired of seeing trash on our streets and in the waters, so I decided to take the initiative. I began cleaning trash out of the waterways on my own and then started a group to inspire others to join the clean up efforts.. The group is called Clean Up Miami Beach and it began on Facebook. There are over three thousand people in the group now. The members participate in clean-ups and also proactively try to improve our city. Getting residents active in our community is very important to me.
When so much of the ecological problems are caused by industrial effluents and agricultural pesticides, what do you say to individuals who feel their small effort won’t alter the overall picture, and are not convinced they should switch to a reusable bag?
I’d tell them that one person can get a lot done. As one person, I was able to influence our city commission to pass a ban on Styrofoam products. Because of that, I was able to take that to other cities, and then because of this growing trend, Publix went to the state legislature and they passed a law which prohibits cities from banning Styrofoam moving forward. It all started from one person’s idea of controlling these toxic products. One person can get a lot done. Anyone who says they can’t, they just don’t really understand.
Can you give us an idea of the change we’d witness if the majority of our citizens were to commit to making this simple adjustment?
We’d see a cleaner city and a better quality of life. People can commit to picking up litter on their daily walk of their dog. Every piece matter. This would save our city significant amounts of money as they wouldn’t have to pay as much for sanitation purposes.
What are the major water pollutants in our city right now and how does Miami Beach rank in the national scale?
One issue which I focus on is the marine debris or plastic pollution in our waterways. Cities have a gravity-based system for storm runoff. Whenever it rains the water goes in the storm drains and exits into a creek, canal, or directly into the bay. When that happens all the trash that gets within that system gets flushed out into the waterways, and that’s where a significant portion of the trash you see in the water comes from.
On a national scale, Miami Beach would rank low but we’re heading in the right direction. Unfortunately, there’s very little oversight from the county, the state, and even our local government. There’s not enough testing of our waters. I personally would not swim in our waterways in North Beach due to concerns from the many reported sewage leaks. Our infrastructure is old and broken and addressing that will mitigate the damage done to our waters.
Interview with Miami Beach Activist, Michael DeFilippi
"Speak up if you see something that’s wrong. There’s nothing wrong with getting involved in someone else’s business when you’re doing it for the right reasons and you’re protecting our environment and quality of life. "
What City-sponsored events are causing the most damage to our beaches, bay, and canals? How can we having an economy so dependent on tourism create stricter rules to protect our beaches and waterways?
The City-sponsored events have done fairly well, but I’d love to see a focus put on protecting the shoreline. Before anything else, that should be the top priority of any beach-related event. The thinking is backwards at the moment. The county cleans the sand area and work their way to the east, when all the focus should be on protecting the water. The trash that’s further up can be picked up later, but the litter that sits between the low and the high-tide lines, those are the things that will go into the water.
Who can get involved? How can we help keep our city clean?
Anyone can get involved. It’s just as simple as speaking up. If you notice someone who’s not picking up their dog poop, say something to them, ask them if they need a bag. Speak up if you see something that’s wrong. There’s nothing wrong with getting involved in someone else’s business when you’re doing it for the right reasons and you’re protecting our environment and quality of life. People can get involved by joining the group and posting things proactively and scheduling their own cleanups. I certainly can help with any logistics.
Can you tell us a bit about the new custom-made barge vessel that has been put to use to clean the waterways?
It’s a good thing, but ultimately a lot of our trash comes from the street level. Installing storm drain grates would be the best way to significantly reduce the amount of trash that continues to go into the water. We’re never going to stop that until we build the infrastructure at the street level. But I do love that machine, it’s excellent to use. We just need to think bigger picture here.
There’s a lot of talk about using water taxis or a ferry to ease the commute from Miami Beach to the City of Miami. Can you tell us more about this, and give us an idea of the impact this added traffic will have on the bay?
I am a huge proponent of this. This is where we need to be putting our money into. They’re talking about mass transit, but that’s years and years away and we need immediate release from our gridlock now. I think using the waters is not only the greenest and most efficient way to do it, but it’s probably the best in terms of cost-savings. I’m not too concerned about any additional traffic it will create in the water because it’s just one vessel going through. It’s not that big of a deal, but think of how many cars it will take off the street. Now that’s a major victory in itself. I’m very passionate about that. There hasn’t been a big enough push for it, but the city just approved a pilot program. I think it needs to be something that’s subsidized through the City of Miami and the City of Miami Beach, and we just make it happen. People love being in the water here. It’s not only a great transportation alternative (although it should be our number-one method of transportation) but it’s also an economic opportunity.
©Michael DeFilippi (Used with permission.)
©Marcella Paz Cohen (Used with permission.)
©Marcella Paz Cohen (Used with permission.)