Doral students graduated from the Plastic Free Cities Program

By: Diana Bello Aristizábal

Para leer en Español

Eighteen high school students from Doral Academy and Downtown Doral Charter Upper School graduated from the Plastic Free Cities program after completing eight weeks of training and work with local businesses in December. They led 6 to join the county’s Plastic Free 305 program, which recognizes companies committing to go plastic free, while also assisted 15 on how to start reducing the purchase of single-use plastic products.

Participants of the program received a graduation certificate on January 30 at the Doral Cultural Arts Center in the presence of Mayor Christi Fraga and Councilwoman Maureen Porras in recognition of their work that included visiting 26 businesses, five weeks of training, three doing business canvasses, and organizing two events.

Doral Academy hosted the ‘Sustainable Holiday Market’ that featured many plastic free vendors facilitated by the students; 240 canned waters were donated, and free composting on-site with Soilmate was conducted. Meanwhile, Downtown Doral Charter Upper School hosted ‘Trash Basel’ in which they made four pieces of art from marine debris.

“With so many companies wanting to reduce plastic use, this program is an opportunity for them to act. It was amazing to see Doral youth showing the community that they really care about doing their part,” says Maggie Winchester-Weiler, Florida Conservation Program Manager for Ocean Conservancy, the entity running and coordinating Plastic Free Cities.

This initiative was made possible by a two-year grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) awarded to Ocean Conservancy to implement it together with partner organizations Big Blue & You and Debris Free Oceans, aiming at training high school kids to learn about plastic pollution so that later they can help local businesses reduce plastic use.

“It’s a win-win situation because young people learn something new, become aware of this issue, and pass the message to local businesses. Probably when they become adults, they will put into practice what they have learned,” says Winchester-Weiler.

This is a nationwide project that began in South Florida in the spring of 2023 in two schools in Hialeah and will also be ran in Miami Gardens, City of Miami, and Miami Springs. “Due to state preemption laws that restrict cities from banning plastic use, this place is unique and now companies are in the stand to step in and act as leaders,” says Maggie.

She adds that although the program started in this part of the U.S., she hopes it can be expanded to other parts of the country, which is feasible considering that training and business canvassing is scalable and applicable anywhere.


An experience for posterity

For Natalia Prisco and Azul Medina, two students from Downtown Doral Charter Upper School and graduates from the program, being part of this initiative left them with more than just learning about plastic. “We gained public speaking skills, learned about strategies and how to canvass,” say these students of eleven and twelve grades, respectively, who dedicated almost four hours a week to this project. A big commitment that they say was worth making.

Regarding the work they did to assist companies on how to reduce their purchase of single-use plastics, they explained it consisted, among other things, in offering them products that could replace the ones they buy without overspend.

“We were business consultants because the options we suggested depended on the company. So, we conducted a strategy and if they were really interested, we would come back with numbers,” explains Azul.

The style of work associated with the program was precisely what attracted the most Alejandro Gabriel García, an eleven-grade student from Doral Academy. “I really liked the opportunity to talk to so many people and see their mindset around plastic use that we shouldn’t perceive as only bad but rather understand the importance of this,” he says.

On the other hand, learning about this topic made him discover that he wants to pursue a career in a related field when he grows up, so the program was an introduction. He decided to be a part of it because he is convinced the future must change. “This is for us students but also for my children and my children’s children.”

“The issue is much more serious, and we need to do something. Although being in the program made me be out of my comfort zone, I think in the future I will be happy to have participated,” says Victoria González from Doral Academy, grade eleven.

Like Alejandro, she believes plastic should not be demonized. “We cannot tell someone who has used this material all their life that they can no longer use it. Rather we should try to eliminate it little by little as much as we can.”

After the experience, the students hope to continue working to benefit the planet and inspire other young people to join this or other initiatives that seek in some way to reduce the impact of plastic pollution.


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