A casually elegant environment accented with world music, fine food, cocktails and stylish people created a purposefully contrasting backdrop for the Miami Is Not Plastic campaign at The Rusty Pelican recently, bringing attention to a global movement.

The festive and informative gala held on the outskirts of Key Biscayne was designed to bring government officials, members of the hospitality community and South Florida residents together to discuss how to reduce the use of disposal plastic products in the environment.

It’s an issue near and dear to the hearts of many in Key Biscayne, where the Village Council has asked for a voluntary ban on the use of disposable plastic bags and other one-use materials; and among those in attendance at the Miami Is Not Plastic launch was Mayor Mayra Pena Lindsay, who had high praise for the event and its goal.

“It was a phenomenal event, and it’s incredibly important that The Rusty Pelican is forward-thinking and innovative enough to do this and host others in the restaurant industry,” she said. “There’s a real movement out there, and one that I completely support. Key Biscayne residents are behind this, and they have been for years.”

Pena Lindsay noted representatives from the Key Biscayne Chamber of Commerce, business community, vendors and population at large were at the event learning about alternatives to single-use plastic, which she was heartened to see: “We benefit so much from the bay and our wonderful environment – it’s the responsible, right thing to do, and the cost is minimal.”

Wes Hevia of Miami crossed the Rickenbacker Causeway to support a cause he believes is gaining momentum. “We think that single-use plastics are a thing of the past and Miami needs a rebranding in terms of its image and awareness of environmental issues. This group, which is led by really smart young people who are from here and care about the future of Miami, is doing a lot to bring people together to spread awareness,” he said.

The event was created and hosted by Pallava Goenka from The Rusty Pelican, who described what the movement is all about. “The Miami Is Not Plastic movement is an initiative to eliminate single-use disposal plastics and join the global movement to unclog our ocean and save marine life. Especially being in Key Biscayne in an iconic restaurant, it is our responsibility to make sure we take care of our environment and the ocean that we are a part of.”

Gonenka, standing in the lobby of the event greeting guests, rattled-off a list of startling statistics to give gravity to issue.

“If you look some numbers, globally in 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish – that’s crazy. Let’s talk about the U.S.; we use about 500 million plastic straws in the U.S. alone. Now let’s look at that and say what we are doing in our own backyard. Granted, we are a fairly big and busy restaurant, but we went through about 300,000 plastic straws last year, and that’s one item in one restaurant and it’s not including cocktail straws, to-go containers, kids’ cups, bags and what not. So, as a business it’s our responsibility to to take the right steps. We want to make sure we don’t put these things in the environment to begin with and influence fellow businesses around the island and Miami to make the switch.”

Several hundred people attended the event, wining and dining as they visited more than a dozen exhibits related to improving the health of the environment.

Miami Waterkeeper Staff Attorney and Program Director Kelly Cox handed out information on her organization’s efforts to protect local waterways.

“We’ve been working really closely with the Key Biscayne Community Foundation on a recent EPA grant to engage community members around environmental issues,” she said. “This summer we did a three-part lecture series about environmental advocacy to try to get residents more involved in their local government and environmental problems, and how they can make a difference. Through that work we’ve been advocating for the Key to move toward reusable or more sustainable options for single-use plastics, particularly plastic bags, and we hope that is something that will come to fruition in 2018.”

From booths displaying alternative takeout dining products to informative exhibits with video presentations and pamphlets to take home, there was a wide array of content to consume. One of the more interesting exhibits presented information about composting in an unlikely way.

Priscilla Carolyn, former Director and Board Member at Fertile Earth, gave an entertaining and comprehensive overview of their initiative and their approach to promotion. “We are an environmental nonprofit that specializes in composting education,” Carolyn explained, holding a calendar in her hand. “The calendar is called, yes, ‘The Ladies of Manure.’”

She explained the lesson behind the irreverent calendar. “Any soil is some kind of poop; it’s some kind of critter coop. When decomposers eat things, they poop it out and it becomes soil. So, ladies of manure came about because our cofounder realized composting tends to be a male industry, however, in the nonprofit she created she happened to attract a lot of beautiful women and she thought it would be a great idea if we made a calendar that is universally beautiful and discusses something that most people find disgusting, which is composting, or poop.

“In the calendar we did our best to make it educational; we tell a story. It was intended to be a conversation starter.”

The calendar, which is no longer in circulation because it has become dated, is being repurposed in the form of a coffee table book for posterity.

Meanwhile, Fertile Earth provides a compost map on their website and information how to have compost picked up and or where to take it.

Martin Memhard, who recently moved from New York to Miami, thought the event attracted a broad cross-section of people for a common cause.

“I think it’s good to have a diverse crowd. You got people who are kina ‘hippied-out’ and some who are just hip and some who are trendy, and you’ve got informational booths and a good message and you’re exposing people to sustainable products. I think this is what it needs; it needs everybody, not just one segment of society or one interest group.”

Dara Schoenwald is the executive director of Volunteer Clean Up. She talked about what her organization is doing to help.

“We organize an annual event called International Coastal Clean Up Day, which is a global event that is spearheaded by the Ocean Conservancy. We organize all of Miami-Dade’s participation, which includes 45 different cleanups all in one day with about 3,000 volunteers. Many of those cleanups happen on Key Biscayne,” Schoenwald said. “Every September we have cleanups happening at Bill Baggs, Crandon Park, Virginia Key Park, and basically all of the shoreline of Key Biscayne. We are really trying to raise awareness, and the way we do that is to get volunteers to participate in shoreline cleanups. If they can see the problem firsthand it will be an eye-opening experience, and maybe it will encourage or motivate them to change some of their behaviors and live a bit more environmentally responsibly and cut down on single-use plastics.”

The evening included a speech by Coral Gables City Commissioner Vince Lago, and Pena Lindsay was among those who mingled with guests, discussing environmental issues and joining forces in the imitative.

The week after the event, Pena Lindsay said she visited The Rusty Pelican again and was impressed that they were using biodegradable materials, paper straws, etc. “I’m delighted to see they’re putting their money where their mouth is,” she said, noting she’s seen a similar commitment by Crandon Marina operator Aabad Melwani and other entities along the causeway.

“They really are committed to making sure they’re doing the right thing for our environment and our bay, and that commitment is inspiring,” she said.

Goenka said he is optimistic Miami Is Not Plastic will continue to gain momentum, and he is ready and willing to help businesses join the movement. He said he will continue to educate and encourage: “Tell people what the problem is and let people know we have a solution and we can influence the public, business owners, restaurants, bars, cafes to tell them to make the switch.

“The options are there, and we will help them with that. People think, ‘How do I source this? It’s so expensive.’ We can help you with that. You have to have the mindset that you will switch, and we will give you the resources to do it.”

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