float on the street

Recycling Mardi Gras Beads: The Environmental Elephant in the Room

Every year, New Orleans hosts the “biggest free party” in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of tourists join locals to celebrate on streets decorated in brilliant colors crowned by vibrant purples, greens, and golds. The perfectly detailed costumes are truly a sight to behold, the fantastical floats spare no expense as they march down Bourbon Street, the food is on point, hurricanes are flowing, and the beads… oh, the beads.

While this scene is definitely one you have to see to believe, there is an elephant in the room that is starting to get a lot of attention… in fact, there are seven of them.

To say that Mardi Gras beads have become a problem on the streets of New Orleans would be an understatement. Remember those seven elephants? With the average elephant weighing nearly six tons, the combined weight of those elephants is the equivalent of all Mardi Gras beads recovered post-celebration in 2018 (that’s 46 tons of beads).

So the question becomes – in a world with sharp focus turned toward plastic management and waste reduction—how is it possible that this excess and blatant disregard for the environment is allowed to exist? Don’t worry. That question is not falling on deaf ears.

Here are how two “Big Easy” organizations curbed the environmental impact of Mardi Gras while allowing the good times to keep on rollin’.

Meet YLC and ArcGNO

The Young Leadership Council (YLC) is a “501(c)(3) New Orleans-based nonprofit that, through volunteer-led community projects, develops young professionals into leaders and positively impacts the quality of life in the region.” Since 1986, YLC has raised over $25 million to “develop leadership through community projects in and around the New Orleans area.”

The Arc of Greater New Orleans (ArcGNO) has been serving area families since 1953 and was established by “parents of children with intellectual disabilities and delays, such as Down Syndrome and autism.” ArcGNO works to “create, through education, advocacy, and support, a greater New Orleans community that includes, accepts, and celebrates people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

Together these two organizations are making this gigantic party less wasteful with their Mardi Gras Recycling Initiative. Even though last year was only the pilot year for this initiative, these groups were able to keep the following out of Louisiana landfills after just one day of parades:

  • 2,500 lbs of beads
  • 10,000 steel cans
  • 2,000 plastic bottles

So, how can two organizations do so much good work? Simply put, they get the crowds to help clean up before, after, and during the parades!

Mardi Gras Recycling Container Distribution

To start off on a clean foot, uniformed YLC and ArcGNO volunteers passed out two types of recycling bags along the parade route: purple mesh bags for recycling beads and clear bags for plastic, aluminum, and paper recyclables.

Mardi Gras Recycling Stations

According to the YLC, designated collection stations were set up on the parade routes. These stations accepted various types of recycled waste with detailed instructions clearly indicated on each bag. They ask that party-goers bring these waste bags to any one of these stations along the route.

The Recycling Center

Once the purple, gold, and green dust settle; all collected beads are taken to the ArcGNO Recycle Center. This is where the beads really shine. They not only get repurposed, they also bolster the local economy by fueling local job growth. After the beads arrive at the Recycle Center they are sorted, re-packaged, and resold by the residents with intellectual disabilities that ArcGNO serves.

Other recyclables are not forgotten. They are shipped and processed to area recycling centers set up to process paper, plastic, and aluminum items.

How to get involved in Mardi Gras recycling?

If you are planning to have the full Mardi Gras experience we strongly suggest you do your part to make it more environmentally friendly for visitors and residents alike. Find more information about volunteering here.

Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler!


Check out the RUBICONMethod on how to reduce waste in your own space!

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