Museum of Ice Cream's Sprinkle Pool Deemed an Environmental Hazard

Patrons frolic in the sprinkle pool at the Museum of Ice Cream's San Francisco location. . (Photo: Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for Museum of Ice Cream)

It’s sweet. It’s stylish. It’s successful. And if you know anyone who is liable to snap selfies and has visited New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco or Miami Beach over the past two-and-half years, it’s likely appeared ad nauseam on your Instagram feed.

Still, not everyone craves the wildly popular Museum of Ice Cream. Some critics have found it inconsequential, hollow, too fluffy for its own good. And the candy-colored interactive venue — less a museum and more a buzzy immersive environment themed around frozen confections and engineered specifically for smartphone-assisted self-portraiture — seems OK with that. After all, people — including a fair share of celebrities — are clamoring to get in.

But is this $38-a-head photo-op pop-up also an environmental nuisance?

Late last month, the MOIC location in Miami Beach (the fourth location for the Millennial-targeting concept since debuting to sold-out crowds in New York in July 2016) received a sanitation violation complete with $1,000 fine from the city's code compliance department for the “creation of a health hazard or nuisance.” One of the museum's most popular features, a ball pit-esque “sprinkle pool” filled with over 100 million itty-bitty pieces of plastic, is what prompted the violation.

According to the Miami New Times, the sprinkle scrape first came to light when local environmental activist Dave Doebler of shot and posted a video showing a confetti-colored scourge of plastic pellets outside of the exhibit — in sidewalk cracks, on the street, even in soil — that had been shed by MOIC guests after dipping/mugging in the sprinkle pool. Doebler found sprinkles as far as two blocks away from the perpetually packed Mid-Beach hotspot located at 3400 Collins Avenue.

Here's a look:

While patrons are asked to thoroughly shake off after exiting the pool, these non-edible sprinkles obviously have a way of sticking to hair and clothing. Doebler raised worries that a good rain would wash the errant plastic bits — “avoidable marine debris” as he calls it — into storm drains and then into local waterways, where fish and other critters might mistake them for food.

“They might as well just be throwing them straight into the ocean,” Doebler told the New Times.

Not long after Doebler, who began his crusade against oceanic plastic waste after first learning about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch more than a decade ago, alerted the New Times to the issue, the notably progressive city got involved by issuing the aforementioned violation.

To its credit, the MOIC responded in the same amount of time that it takes a soft-serve cone to melt on an August afternoon in South Florida. That is, pledges to rectify the situation were made relatively quickly — or at least they were to city officials.

“We have been regularly inspecting the location and have been advised by the company that they are putting measures into place to mitigate the conditions, including but not limited to the hiring of a cleaning crew, instituting checkpoints to remove sprinkles indoors, vacuums to remove sprinkles that escape, and relocating the pool to the beginning instead of the end of the museum,” city spokeswoman Melissa Berthier explained to the New Times in an emailed statement.

While a direct response to the New Times’ request for comment initially went unanswered, on Jan. 3 spokeswoman Devan Pucci issued a statement:

“While we acknowledge there is always more we can do to improve our sprinkle residue around the city, it is important to note that we have taken immense precautions to make sure we are a company that values sustainability and one that is proud to be environmentally conscious. Not only have we hired multiple cleaners that are working 24/7 to constantly sweep around the building as well as paying extra attention to the waterway entrance, we have already begun the process of creating a biodegradable sprinkle for our Sprinkle Pool that will be implemented in the near future.”

Pucci goes on to note the company’s commitment to sustainability, including the presence of recycling and composting bins at the Miami Beach location. She also says there are plans to install blowers aimed at guests as they exit the sprinkle pool area. “... we continually remind every guest to do a double shake upon leaving to ensure everyone has shaken off any sprinkles INSIDE of our walls,” she adds.

The City by the Bay gets sprinkled

The Museum of Ice Cream’s pastel-hued pollutant problem isn’t just limited to Miami Beach. Just a month after the pop-up made its San Francisco debut in September of last year, the San Francisco Chronicle published accounts of sprinkle pool remnants winding up all over the city, including in neighborhoods a full mile away from the museum.

"My 5-year-old would think it's candy,” Eva Holman of the Surfrider Foundation’s San Francisco chapter tells the Chronicle. “ Why wouldn't a bird on the street think it's something to consume?"

"Most plastic has a purpose, like bottle caps and food wrappers," she adds. "What is the purpose of this tiny piece of plastic other than a selfie moment?"

Unlike in Miami Beach, San Francisco officials did not issue a violation to the MOIC, although the Department of Public Works told the Chronicle that they were “investigating the litter” around the museum's temporary home in Union Square and would take action if necessary.

Whatever the case, it would seem that reports of widely distributed plastic litter cannot quell the MOIC’s soaring popularity: The San Francisco incarnation of the creamy, dreamy Instagram backdrop just announced that it will be extending its run to late February.