April 2023 Affiliate of the Month – Keep Coral Gables Beautiful

by | Apr 5, 2023

STAMFORD, Conn. (April 5, 2023) – Keep America Beautiful® is proud to announce the April 2023 Affiliate of the Month – Keep Coral Gables Beautiful in south Florida. In this KAB initiative, we feature the great work being done in our network of 700 certified affiliates. Like our March Affiliate of the Month, Keep Indian River Beautiful, they are being recognized for the Innovation Award they received from KAB in 2021. The Keep America Beautiful Innovation Award salutes affiliates that have created innovative partnerships and programs to further the mission of Keep America Beautiful.

Keep Coral Gables Beautiful received the award for the modern way they conducted their Litter Index. The Litter Index uses a comprehensive annual assessment to gather data to assess the overall appearance of communities using quantifiable indicators such as litter, illegal signs, graffiti, and more.

Q&A with Keep Coral Gables Co-Executive Directors Solanch Lopez and Matthew Anderson


Tell us about the staff and volunteers at Keep Coral Gables Beautiful.

Solanch Lopez
I knew of Keep America Beautiful and the affiliate network from my time interning at another city that had an affiliate. During this time, I saw everything that they were doing there; a little light bulb went off in me because at the time I was also still working with the city of Coral Gables, and I thought it would be a perfect fit. A lot of the things that Keep America beautiful and Keep Florida Beautiful are promoting are practices that the city was already doing in some way, shape or form and I thought it was a great time and opportunity.  I put together a presentation for our city manager. I outlined this great program that would give us an opportunity to put everything under one umbrella. It would give us access to all the knowledge and resources that the affiliate network has, but also grant opportunities that we can use to grow programs. We received approval from the City Manager and ultimately the City Commission. The Sustainability Advisory Board, already existed allowing and we made KCGB a subcommittee of the board with Matt and I  as the Co-Executive Directors. Matt’s educational and technical knowledge combined with my marketing knowledge creates the perfect team to make sure that this is a successful affiliate and a successful program as we move forward and it continues to grow.

In addition to Matt and I and our Sustainability Advisory Board, we have all our different city departments as it’s a very collaborative city. We’re able to reach out to any department that we need for any help in our programming, whether that’s our green Space Management department for beautification events or the Parking department when we need to use one of the parking lots for an event and of course the Solid Waste division for actual pickup of all of the litter that we collect from our events.
My new role also allowed us to bring Economic Development into the fold. We will be working with our local businesses for different programming, whether that’s getting them out to participate at our downtown community cleanups, working with the Chamber to help promote those programs, giving them recognition for all their efforts and beautifying our city through our commercial beautification award or even just partnering with us for our reverse vending machine rewards program. This will allow us to incorporate businesses, both small and large.

Matthew Anderson
What’s unique about our board is that we also have representatives from our local universities, the University of Miami, and Florida International University. We also recently added a youth appointment to the board. To be able to get that input from the younger generation and then have an impact and input into what we’re doing, policies, we’re creating programs that we’re launching, engaging with the community.

How long have you been involved with Keep Coral Gables Beautiful and what role(s) have you held?

Solanch Lopez
I have been with the city of Coral Gables for nearly 10 years in various roles starting as a part-timer in community recreations to the city manager’s office. I am currently working in our economic development department as the marketing manager. For the past three years, since we started our affiliate, I have served as Co-Executive Director of Keep Coral Gables Beautiful, with Matt.

Matthew Anderson
I am Matt Anderson. I’ve been serving the city for the last eight years as the resilience and sustainability manager, also overseeing all our environmental initiatives. I’ve recently moved into the role as assistant Director for Mobility and Sustainability in our Parking and Mobility Services Department. I will continue to oversee not only sustainability and resiliency initiatives, but also our alternative transportation options in our city, including our trolley and freebie service.

When did your passion for taking care of the environment begin?

Matthew Anderson
I was born and raised here in South Florida. I spent many, many weekends of my childhood, whether it be out swimming in the waters of Biscayne Bay or exploring the Everglades.  I had a passion for the outdoors and the environment at a very young age. I knew what I wanted to do and how I wanted to get involved and help protect and preserve our environment, not only for our current residents, but our future generations. I have two young kids, and I think it’s incredibly important for us to be able to hand off this planet to the younger generations in a better state than what we found it. It’s not only a profession for me, but also personal. And I think being able to come to work every day and have an impact on that, it feels a lot less like work and more of a passion so.

Solanch Lopez
I also grew up always at the beach and I did a lot of camping trips with my middle school over to the Grand Canyon and the Moab Desert in Utah. All of that really grew my passion for nature and the outdoors.

Keep Coral Gables Beautiful received a Keep America Beautiful Innovation award in 2021. Tell us about that project.

Solanch Lopez
Yes, that award was for the innovative way that we conducted our litter index. When we first became affiliates in 2020, because of COVID, we couldn’t do a litter index that year in the process of affiliation. When 2021 came around, we wanted to make sure that we completed our first litter index but we still didn’t feel comfortable putting our board members in a confined space in a van.

To ensure safety of participants during COVID-19, a GoPro360 camera was mounted to the roof of an electric car, allowing board members to serve as judges and provide the scores needed for the annual litter index report. The video was shared via Zoom and a GIS map of the city was made available to the public. These tools allowed Keep Coral Gables Beautiful to conduct is 2021 Litter Index with COVID-19 restrictions in place and improve the efficiency of the reporting process.  

We wanted to keep safety at the forefront so, we started trying to brainstorm how we could cover the entire city, but not having the car and we were going back and forth and brainstorming and that’s where our collaborative nature with our all of our city department comes in because then our IT department suggested mounting a GoPro to a car, drive the sites, and record it that way we can just show the videos to our board members and they can rate the sites virtually. Using one of the city’s electric vehicles that our team outfitted with a GoPro 360 camera so that we can record a full view of the streets. Our IT department created a GIS map for our litter index.  We have a map of the full city broken up into five different areas. The 10 sites within each area, and you can click through and what we’ve done is you can click on a site, see what that site scored, and it’ll have a link to the video so members of the public can view and track progress.

This innovative solution to capture crucial data through the litter index allowed us:

  • An opportunity for an increase in flexibility from board members.
  • Creates a visual record to keep as historical documentation.
  • Better understanding of the issues of litter throughout the lifetime of the local affiliate

Besides those, what are some other things the staff and volunteers have done that Keep Coral Gables Beautiful is exceptionally proud of?

Matthew Anderson
In all honesty, our program has grown faster than Solanch and I could ever even predicted. We’re approaching almost 80 events and programs we’ve done in the last three years.
One event that we’ve been incredibly proud of is our recycling drive-thru events that we host twice a year, usually around Earth Day and America Recycles Day. This is one of the largest events that we host in the city and our largest sustainability event and we had been hosting even before becoming an affiliate. During this event, we have the community drive through the event where they can come drop off household hazardous waste and electronics to be recycled. We also partner with Camilla’s House, and they can donate any unwanted clothing to those in need and then we also do paper shredding with our Police Department. At our peak following COVID, we got 750 cars in three hours’ drive through that event and usually there’s about two people per car. It’s a service that really sets our community apart. Over the past seven years we’ve collected almost 400,000 pounds.

I can’t speak highly enough about it and the partnerships we created through that and continuing to look to kind of expand upon that but it’s a service that I think really sets our community apart.

Solanch Lopez
Another program that we’re really excited about and it’s still in its early stages is our reverse vending machine, which we were able to launch on America recycles day this past November thanks to a grant from the Florida Beverage Association.

Participants recycle their plastic bottles or aluminum cans into the machine and receive points. The top ten recyclers will receive a reward from a local business partner for that month’s contest.
We’re solely collecting aluminum cans and plastic bottles and there’s no contamination because the machine won’t take anything that’s not plastic or aluminum. In the past four months, we’ve collected about 5000 containers.
And have had an 80% retention rate on the users, meaning that people are returning and using the machine multiple times.
We’re really, proud of that program and can’t wait to see how it continues to grow during this pilot year. We have a lot more programming, but those are some of the major stable ones that interconnect with that innovative theme that we’re going for.


Images depict Keep Coral Gables Beautiful reverse vending machine. Particpants ear points a

Keep America Beautiful thanks Keep Coral Gables Beautiful for their continuous hard work. We’re proud to have KCGB in the KAB family.

To learn more about their innovation award watch the interview with  Solanch Lopez and Matthew Anderson here:

Contact: Kelly Morris, Marketing Manager
Keep America Beautiful®