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Combatting plastic pollution in Tampa Bay

By Rachael Ramchand

In Florida, serious water quality issues have been occurring for quite some time. In the Tampa Bay Area, water goat devices are used to capture garbage that flows out of storm water discharge areas, preventing debris from polluting and causing damage to the ecosystem.

These devices strain the water, collecting hundreds of pounds of garbage, which would have ended up in the water if not blocked. The water goats are managed by Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful and adopted by Phi Theta Kappa – a group that cleans the water goats monthly.

There are 13 water goat devices in the area, and according to the Tampa Bay Times, in the month of May, these water goat devices each caught, on average, 142 pounds of garbage last year –73 percent of which were plastic bottles.

This environmental issue that is threatening Florida’s waters can be largely due to laws that were passed, stating that cities are not allowed to ban the use of plastic bags, containers nor plastic foam. Fortunately, there are ways to help combat this environmentally-threatening issue, and the local advocates in Tampa have already begun.

The prevention of plastic pollution in the Tampa Bay Area initially began with Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber restaurant on Clearwater Beach. Heilman first stopped using straws and plastic cups at his restaurant, according to an article in the Tampa Bay Times.

Customers barely noticed this, which eventually led to Heilman switching the many plastics that were once often used in high quantities, to more environmentally-friendly alternatives. He used wooden temperature sticks, plant-based coasters and even biodegradable to-go boxes and toilet paper.

Heilman stated that his restaurant has had an open house event offering advice for other beachfront owners having a difficult time transitioning away from plastic.

Adding to this, there are 16 Tampa Bay businesses, the Beachcomber included, that have all received national Ocean Friendly certification. They received this by voluntarily banning foam products and plastic bags, only providing straws and to-go utensils upon request and enforcing recycling programs.

However, as helpful and beneficial as it is for the local people of Tampa to reach out and play an active role in reducing the amount of plastic waste ending up in their waters, there still are many obstacles in their way.

A proposal was created by the Environmental Protection Agency to wipe out the Clean Water Act safeguards. This, sadly, can further lead to the increased levels of pollution in Tampa and the rest of Florida’s waters. If plastic pollution levels rise, this would only worsen its water quality which can result in a proliferation of environmental issues.

Nevertheless, in addition to the smaller local businesses, there are bigger companies and institutions in the area that are also making drastic changes in order to reduce plastic waste.

UT is deeply involved in the reduction of plastic. The school has officially gone plastic straw free, only providing paper straws upon request. Over the past three years, UT has also installed 54 bottle refill stations – eliminating 2.4 million single-use plastic bottles – using biodegradable clamshell to-go containers and replaced their plastic cups and lids with 100 percent compostable, biodegradable cups and lids.

Recycling bins are also placed all over the campus, available for all the students to use. There are various clubs and organizations on campus that are heavily involved in many environmentally-friendly campaigns and activities.

In addition to this, larger companies in the area like Starbucks are trying to reduce the amount of waste that is associated with their business, increasing recycling and encouraging reusability.

Although it may appear as though the activities involved in reducing plastic waste are mostly on a large-scale, there are simpler ways for individuals, families, neighborhoods and schools to become plastic-free, without being in an environmental group or owning a business.

Firstly, recycle. There are many recycling bins located all over Tampa, as well a lot of recycling services available. When at the grocery, try using cloth bags instead of plastic bags for the items bought. Purchase stainless steel or paper straws, and instead of buying your coffee in a plastic cup every morning, getting a reusable coffee cup would be a lot better for the environment.

An act as a neighborhood that could be done, is to strategically place multiple large recycling bins around the area and encourage your neighbors to recycle. Lastly, re-using plastic or glass items around the house can be a major help.

Water pollution is not just prevalent in Florida’s waters, but it is a world-wide issue. Even the smallest acts to help reduce this pollution can make a big change in the end. However, this can only be done if everyone bands together to stop such a large amount of waste enter the water at a high rate.

It all starts with you.

Rachael can be reached at rachael.ramchand@spartans.ut.edu

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