Update: The Museum of Ice Cream responded to concerns about the environmental impact of the plastic sprinkles in a statement to New Times. Read the statement in its entirety at the bottom of this post.
The highlight of the Museum of Ice Cream — the absurdly popular, made-for-Instagram installation that opened last month in Miami Beach — is the pool filled waist-deep with millions of rainbow-colored plastic sprinkles. It's the stuff of social media dreams. But the sprinkles are turning into a real-life problem for the Beach, where the city has gone as far as fining the organizers for creating an "environmental hazard."
One night last month, local environmentalist Dave Doebler walked to the always-packed attraction at 3400 Collins Ave. and filmed what he saw: tons of tiny pieces of plastic dotting the sidewalk and street — some as far as two blocks away. A little rain, like the one that swept Miami last night, he says, will sweep all of those faux sprinkles into storm drains and out into Biscayne Bay, where fish and other marine life will likely mistake the plastic pieces for food.
"They might as well just be throwing them straight into the ocean," Doebler says.
The Museum of Ice Cream, the brainchild of 25-year-old Maryellis Bunn, who aspires to be "the next Disney," opened December 13 in Miami Beach and charges $38 for admission to a series of millennial-pink-painted, selfie-ready rooms. Its first temporary installation, in New York City, opened in 2016 and quickly became a phenomenon, selling out all 300,000 tickets within five days of opening.
Others pop-up locations followed — one in Los Angeles, another in San Francisco — and promptly sold out. But while celebrities and influencers flocked to the sites to photograph themselves perched on banana swings and smiling in front of popsicle walls, critics began voicing concern about the havoc wreaked by the plastic sprinkles.
"If it's on the sidewalk, it most likely goes into storm drains and then into the ocean," Eva Holman of the Surfrider Foundation's San Francisco Chapter told San Francisco Gate. She added, "Most plastic has a purpose, like bottle caps and food wrappers. What is the purpose of this tiny piece of plastic other than a selfie moment?"
Shelly Reinstein, a spokesperson for the Museum of Ice Cream, told the newspaper the company works with an environmental specialist and instructs guests to shake off the sprinkles. A quick scroll through Twitter, however, shows the sprinkles often make their way out of the exhibit.
In Miami Beach, the city quickly took action. Within days of being made aware of the runaway-sprinkle issue, the code department issued a courtesy notice and a sanitation violation to the Museum of Ice Cream for creating an environmental hazard, city spokesperson Melissa Berthier says. The violation carries a $1,000 fine.
"We have been regularly inspecting the location and have been advised by the company that they are putting measures
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The Museum of Ice Cream didn't immediately respond to New Times' request for comment. During a sneak peek before the site opened, Bunn's cofounder, Manish Vora, said the sprinkle pool reflected the multicultural mix of the city — or something. "The sprinkle pool is the base that will carry
Doebler says he thinks the sprinkles will continue to be a problem unless the company switches to a biodegradable material instead of plastic. He calls the tiny pieces the "Museum of Sprinkles — the Museum of Ice Cream's outdoor exhibit."
Update: On January 3, Museum of Ice Cream spokeswoman Devan Pucci sent New Times the following statement:
At Museum of Ice Cream, we take our role very seriously as a social platform and public-facing entity. We aim to inspire and position ourselves as a brand who greatly understands our social responsibility. While we acknowledge there is always more we can do to improve our sprinkle residue around the city, it is important to note that we have taken immense precautions to make sure we are a company that values sustainability and one that is proud to be environmentally conscious. Not only have we hired multiple cleaners that are working 24/7 to constantly sweep around the building as well as paying extra attention to the waterway entrance, we have already begun the process of creating a biodegradable sprinkle for our Sprinkle Pool that will be implemented in the near future. It is important to note that we have been consulting with top environmental specialists to learn more about how we can greater impact the Miami environmental efforts, and have compost & recycling bins in every room. Additionally, Museum of Ice Cream is planning to install blowers that hit visitors on three different door entrances when they leave from the sprinkle pool. The drainage has already been layered with felt by Public Works and our sprinkles are being collected in an area that is easily vacuum-able by our sprinkle cleaners. Museum of Ice Cream is greatly invested in making sure we are putting our best foot forward with our sustainable efforts and we continually remind every guest to do a double shake upon leaving to ensure everyone has shaken off any sprinkles INSIDE of our walls. Our goal is to continue our sustainable efforts and amplify them to be even more efficient. We appreciate the feedback we have received from visitors and the local Miami community and can assure our audience that we don't take their suggestions lightly. At Museum of Ice Cream, we are dedicated to continuous improvement with our environmental efforts and are proud to support sustainability in all of our locations.