You’d be hard pressed to find a more energized crowd than the mass of New Orleanians that gather together to celebrate during Mardi Gras. Hearty laughter, lofty celebration, and a swarm of vibrantly colored beads flying through the air everywhere you look. The celebration is a huge economic boon – and New Orleans used to gauge the health of Mardi Gras by how many beads were sold…. Which raises an interesting question.
Surely all of those plastic beads are being harvested for recycling… right?
Well, kind of.
HISTORY, BEADS, AND A WHOLE LOTTA SPIRIT
Mardi Gras dates all the way back to 1703, when a small French-Canadian settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile held its first Mardi Gras celebration. However, the throwing of beads didn’t become a phenomenon until the 1920’s when krewes began tossing out small glass-bead necklaces to the parade-goers. It became an instant revelry, and the product evolved to the colorful plastic beads you see everywhere, today.
The beads represent more than just a whimsical, wasteful toss into the crowds, though. The Green colored beads symbolize faith, the Purple beads represent Justice, and the Gold beads exemplify power.
However, it wasn’t until the last decade that people began to seriously consider the consequences of this celebration. Where were all these plastic beads going? Were they being reused, or recycled, at the very least?
BEADS HERE, BEADS THERE… 1,200 TONS LATER
No one wants to kill a good mood, but the repercussions of this particular celebration seriously add to the metric tonnage of waste produced in the United States. The typical Mardi Gras produces over 1,200 tons of plastic waste.
That is an astronomically high number. What’s being done about it?
Well, unfortunately, 91% of those beads were never recycled. That is, until a few years ago.
A GREEN MARDI GRAS JUST AROUND THE CORNER
While the amount of plastic waste going to landfills during Mardi Gras is still astronomically high, a lot of action is finally being taken by entrepreneurs around New Orleans. Take Atlas Beads, for example; this eco-friendly business is making a huge impact on Fat Tuesday.
Atlas Beads takes paper magazine waste and turns it into beautiful, handmade necklaces. They’ve already become a global phenomenon, and continue to give local artisans the ability to make a higher-than-average living, while making an environmental difference.
They aren’t the only ones, though. A new renaissance of recycled and reused beads is washing through the industry. Look at ArcNGO, a bead recycling company that took in 62.3 tons of plastic beads last year – which they’re currently selling for this Mardi Gras.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
This is the perfect opportunity to get directly involved in efforts to create a greener planet; we’re living in a time where recycled products are readily available – and affordable. If you’re going to New Orleans to celebrate on Fat Tuesday this week, make sure to actively search for recycled beads. You really do make a difference.
Let’s help create a greener Mardi Gras.
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