Cleaning Up (After) Mardi Gras

by Nick Livermore

We came across a rather staggering number the other day – 25 million pounds of plastic beads are tossed around in New Orleans each year, according to the Los Angeles Times. What’s worse is that these beads can’t be recycled like other plastics, cans and paper. Besides the lucky few that leave the city as keepsake souvenirs, most beads only make their way to a landfill.

In the wake of this year’s Mardi Gras parade, there is good news! Krewes, recyclers and artists are more aware than ever of the matter and are taking strides make Mardi Gras a greener event.

Many of the Krewes, the parade’s marching groups, incorporate green aspects into their floats. Some utilize horses and donkeys to pull their floats instead of cars, others build their floats out of eco-friendly and recycled materials. But one of this year’s krewes, Arc Enterprise’s “Catch and Release”, has a novel concept to minimize the mess and environmental impact. Catch and Release will sweep through at the end of the parade, and ask all partygoers to pitch back (towards the float) any surplus beads they don’t need. These beads are then reused in other events and future year’s parades. Arc is also a local, non-profit organization dedicated to empowering individuals with mental disabilities. Win-win!

Roaming this year’s Mardi Gras will also be local community groups collecting beads and donating them to charities and reusing them at other events. Krewes may then purchase them for next year’s parade. Other beads, many collected by churches, are packed up and sent off to other parishes for their own celebrations and Mardi Gras-themed events. Local organization, VerdiGras, is putting bright yellow and green recycling bins throughout the city in hopes of minimizing the trash heading to landfills, or even worse, waterways and such.

One artist has put used Mardi Gras beads to good use, creating a 30 x 8-foot mosaic with over 1 million beads. The work, “The Sanctuary of Alegria”, by Stephan Wanger, took over 14 months to complete. The mosaic depicts the skyline of New Orleans and encapsulates much of the energy of the city – made out of a true symbol of the city! It will be auctioned off with proceeds going to the Make It Right Foundation, who will invest the money in repairing damage to the city from Hurricane Katrina.

It is encouraging to see so many groups getting on board to make Mardi Gras a more green event! We hope to see many other festivals and events doing the same in the future. Is there anything in particular that you have attended with a green stewardship? Let us know below, we would love to hear from you!

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