Last week, news about the repeal of Coral Gables' ban on Styrofoam and plastic bags made headlines as a disappointing step backward in the progress many cities have made to incorporate more environmentally friendly practices. The ruling — which was the result of a legal fight from large corporations in the Florida Retail Federation — determined the city cannot regulate business practices because of state preemption laws.
However, that outcome doesn't mean South Florida's cities and businesses that are passionate about helping the environment can't voluntarily take measures to make a difference on their own. Because the region's beautiful beaches and tropical surroundings are main draws for millions of tourists, local restaurants would benefit from incorporating basic measures such as reducing single-use plastics so they can contribute to the solution instead of being part of the problem. Jayson Koch, vice chair of Surfrider Foundation Miami, puts it simply: "Regardless of whether or not a plastic bag or single-use plastics ordinances exist, it's just good business and the right thing to do."
A few initiatives have been gaining momentum in the past year, but they still need support and more participation from Miami's restaurant scene. The Miami Beach Rising Above campaign #PlasticFreeMB, through a three-level system, shows consumers the businesses that have reduced single-use plastics. Level 1 is for any business that removes plastic straws and plastic bags; Level 2 shows establishments that have removed not only plastic straws and bags but also one other product from a list of eligible items; Level 3 is for businesses that have removed all single-use plastics or switched to 100 percent reusable.
Surfrider Foundation's Ocean Friendly Restaurants (OFR) program offers local and national exposure to participating restaurants. "By joining the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program, restaurants open their doors to new customers who specifically seek out OFRs around the U.S.," says Koch, who is also the coordinator for Miami's OFR program. "For example, when I travel to California or New York, I patronize only Ocean Friendly restaurants. Today there are over 600 OFRs around the U.S., and the number is growing."
To be certified ocean-friendly under the OFR program, a restaurant must meet five basic criteria and a minimum of two other criteria of a second category; the primary focus is the reduction of plastic usage. The five requirements are as follows: not using expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam), following proper recycling practices, using only reusable tableware for onsite dining and providing disposable utensils for take-out only upon request, offering no plastic bags for takeout or to-go orders, and providing straws only upon request.
Many establishments have already stopped distributing plastic straws, but quite a few Miami restaurants are going beyond the basics to ride the wave of sustainability. Here are some local restaurants that have committed to being ocean-friendly.
Delicious Raw1828 Bay Rd., Miami Beach
Though not yet a member of the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program, Delicious Raw is a founding member of the Plastic Free Miami Beach campaign. The other South Florida locations, in Aventura, Wynwood, and Davie, are also implementing the same practices and have signage for to make customers aware that the company is reducing single-use plastics. All of Delicious Raw's to-go packaging and utensils are made from renewable plant resources and are compostable, and guests are encouraged to drink from reusable mason jars instead of disposable cups for coffee, tea, juices, and smoothies.
Essensia Restaurant at the Palms Hotel3025 Collins Ave., Miami Beach
A longtime advocate of sustainability, Essensia is an Ocean Friendly Restaurant and the recipient of the Slow Foods Snail of Approval. The restaurant boasts an onsite organic chef's garden that provides fresh herbs for dishes and craft cocktails, and the wine list includes vineyards committed to being 100 percent sustainable or organically farmed. All seafood is "best choice" or "good alternative" as defined by Seafood Watch or certified as sustainable. Essensia's sustainable local grouper bouillabaisse was created in collaboration with Ocean Conservancy. Through the end of April, 20 percent of the proceeds from the sale of the dish will be donated to the nonprofit environmental advocacy group.
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Kiki on the River450 NW North River Dr., Miami
In addition to being an Ocean Friendly Restaurant, Kiki on the River has sponsored a Scavenger water decontamination vessel through the Miami River Commission. The vessel picks up floating garbage, decontaminates 600,000 gallons of water per hour, and injects 150,000 liters of oxygen per hour into the Miami River to improve water quality. The first three-hour cleanup took place this past December, and the Kiki team aims to sponsor the vessel quarterly.
Nikki Beach1 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach
The South Pointe mainstay stands right on the sand and values its unique location. Employees regularly participate in Nikki Beach-organized beach cleanups, and the restaurant/day club hosted Surfrider Foundation Miami's annual fundraiser gala in 2019 for ocean health awareness. A member of the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program, the sprawling venue also practices energy efficiency through LED lighting.