Photo: John Pendygraft, Tampa Bay Times

“Earlier this year, Sheri Heilman knew she wasn’t the only one fed up with the litter strewn on Clearwater Beach’s famous sugar sand and the bottles and wrappers stuck in storm drains.

In April, business owners and community leaders spent nearly all of a two-hour meeting that was supposed to be about general beach issues talking about the trash problem.

Over the next few months, Heilman and other stakeholders came up with a plan to send a message to all of Tampa Bay to get serious about the litter that strangles wildlife, fouls waterways and erodes general decency.

Throughout this week, about 1,500 volunteers and 50 businesses and organizations are estimated to have participated in The Big Cleanup, said to be the largest community-wide litter effort in city history. Organized by the Ocean Allies nonprofit founded by Heilman, Keep Pinellas Beautiful, Amplify Clearwater and other groups, the goal is for visibility of the six-day event to initiate a culture shift.

‘We hope that this is going to be just the start of the conversation and that this conversation continues into a lifestyle change,’ said Heilman, who also owns Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber restaurant on Clearwater Beach…

Heilman said The Big Cleanup reflects the education about avoidable waste that Ocean Allies has been trying to spread to businesses in Clearwater. Formed in 2018, Ocean Allies certifies businesses as ocean friendly if they meet certain criteria, like banning single-use plastics and foam, enforcing recycling, and other standards.

So far about 40 restaurants, vendors, salons, hotels and other businesses have been certified, according to the Ocean Allies website.

The Big Cleanup stopped calling for volunteers this week because of the massive response, but Heilman said she hopes residents carry on the spirit of the event every day in their own lives.”

— John Pendygraft, Tampa Bay Times

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Citizens for a Scenic Florida