This Mardi Gras Tradition Has a Nasty Environmental Side Effect

Discarded Mardi Gras beads can pile up — literally

Mardi Gras beads
Mardi Gras participants throw beads to celebrants on Bourbon Street on February 21, 2023 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Jon Cherry/Getty Images

If you’ve ever watched or taken part in a Mardi Gras celebration, you’ve probably seen them: necklaces comprised of plastic beads, the tossing of which are generally part of the festivities. It makes for a grand visual, to be sure — but if you’re reading this and find yourself a little skeptical about the wisdom of tossing and abandoning large piles of plastic on the streets of a major city, well, you’re not wrong.

As Kevin McGill reported for the Associated Press, some New Orleans residents are exploring ways to reduce the waste — some of which can get into the city’s water supply. This includes work being done by multiple nonprofit organizations, with McGill pointing to the work being done by both Grounds Krewe and Arc of New Orleans. The former is exploring ways to make the celebratory objects tossed for Mardi Gras more sustainable, while the latter repackages used parade ephemera in new forms.

Brett Davis, the founder of Grounds Krewe, told the AP that he was concerned about the way that “waste is becoming a defining characteristic of this event.” His organization now sells biodegradable and organic objects that can be tossed during the festivities — including biodegradable parade gear from companies like Ephiphany Throws.

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This issue has been brewing for a while. In 2018, the city paid millions of dollars to remove 46 tons of Mardi Gras beads from storm drains across the city. Whether you’re looking at this from an environmental angle or a financial one — not that the two are mutually exclusive — it isn’t hard to see why a more environmentally friendly alternative to plastic beads is worth exploring. And, hopefully, implementing on a wider scale.

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