Last month, volunteers combed the streets of Wynwood to pick up garbage they found around the district's famous painted walls. In only one hour, the group collected more than 600 pounds of trash within a few blocks.
Sophie Ringel, president of the nonprofit Clean Miami Beach, led the January 5 cleanup with help of the environmental group VolunteerCleanup.org. She tells New Times that the amount of trash in such a small area, about ten blocks, was appalling.
"We rented a U-Haul to drive with us to put trash bags in, and there were a lot of areas that were so trashed we had to leave our stuff behind because the van was so full," Ringel says.
The litter was what one would expect to find in a touristy area such as Wynwood: beer cans, soda bottles, chip bags, and all sorts of other things normally found in a college dorm room. Ringel says that along her group's path down NW Second Avenue and up NW First Court, they saw barely any garbage cans, so visitors had resorted to throwing trash on the street — or worse, into storm drains.
"The garbage in the drain was overflowing into the street," she says. "We definitely have a problem with pollution in this city."
On a recent weekday, a reporter walked the same path as Ringel's volunteer group and found storm drains full of the same kinds of litter.
On NW First Court, the street Ringel says was the most littered, there were only two garbage cans in a three-block area, and the streets were rife with trash. In contrast to NW Second Avenue, the storm drains on NW First Court were at least covered by metal filters, so the trash remained on the street instead of landing in the drains.
As of now, the City of Miami doesn't have a street-cleaning program like New York that requires cars to be moved off the streets, but it's something the city would like to begin, according to the city's chief resilience officer, Jane Gilbert. This would allow for more thorough cleaning than what the city currently does.
"According to our public works department, [a street-cleaning program] could be the single most effective way of removing litter. We're proposing in next year's budget to bring someone in to help design the program," Gilbert says. "It's very expensive. We'd need to spend at least $1 million on signage alone."
Gilbert says storm drain filters like the ones on NW First Court were installed on some streets as part of an environmental pilot program. The city advocated for a $1.5 million grant from the state to expand the program and add more filters, but it wasn't approved. Nevertheless, Gilbert says, Miami plans to use its own money to expand the program.
In the meantime, Wynwood continues to undergo growing pains as it transforms into Miami's next mixed-use district and a major tourist destination. Cleanup participant Donnavan Kirk, who runs the artistic platform site Creator Connect, says the mountains of trash around the neighborhood certainly don't help matters.
"We were always running into trash, trash all over the place. Hard to maintain a good, clean environment to start a business," Kirk says. "It was devaluing [the] artwork and street art. There are beautiful murals, but then there's trash on the street."