Envisioning a More Environmentally Friendly Mardi Gras in New Orleans

February 18, 2024 by

littel girl with beads during mardi gras in Nola

New Orleanians know how to party and do it most of the year. They don’t even need a reason. But Mardi Gras is the city’s longest party. It’s a three-month-long fête with parades of dazzling floats, their masked riders tossing strings of colorful beads and slews of trinkets to screaming crowds with outstretched arms. The revelry is contagious, but millions of non-biodegradable “throws” litter the streets, creating an environmental nightmare.

The king cake, costumed parade-goers, and elaborately decorated floats are gone, but the planning for next year has already begun, and so has a new community recycling program called Recycle Dat.

Mardi Gras Nola float rolls

Recycle Dat works in partnership with the City of New Orleans, New Orleans & Company, Grounds Krewe, and several local organizations to make Mardi Gras more sustainable. They distribute bead recycling bags and have established staffed recycling hubs along the city’s Uptown parade route.

Discarded Mardi Grs beads litter the ground

The city launches a massive cleanup immediately following each parade, leaving the post-parade landscape debris-free in no time. However, an estimated 25 million pounds of plastic beads are thrown each year, many of those ending up in clogged storm drains. In 2018, the City of New Orleans found 93,000 pounds of Mardi Gras beads that had fallen into storm drains in a five-block stretch of St. Charles Avenue, one of the main parade routes. For months after the festivities, uncaught beads will dangle from tree limbs, a year-long souvenir of Mardi Gras waste.

Grounds Krewe Nola bags of Mardi Gra waste.Photo courtesy of Grounds Krewe.

Enter Grounds Krewe, a nonprofit whose vision is for New Orleans’s “special event culture to retain all of its enjoyment while having the lowest possible impact on its community spaces and our planet’s resources.” Formed in 2018 by Brett Davis, a native New Orleanian environmentalist, the group’s strategy is “to create a setting where environmental stewardship is not just convenient and contagious.” Grounds Krewe hopes to accomplish its goal by promoting and providing waste prevention, recycling, and sustainable products for New Orleans events.

Grounds Krewe Nola sustainable throws in jute bags.

Grounds Krewe aims to replace disposable plastic trinkets with environmentally sensitive and functional throws. They offer an entire catalog of sustainable throws, each with end-of-life instructions.

Recycled glass beads. Photo courtesy of Grounds Krewe.

Choices include:

  • Made-in-Louisiana jambalaya, red beans, popcorn, or coffee in recyclable jute fiber bags.
  • Beads made from polished and dyed açai seeds.
  • Recycled glass beads (I was lucky to catch a few of these coveted items).
  • Biodegradable glitter kit handcrafted in New Orleans by a woman-owned business, Glitter Nymph. The glitter is made from the fibers of highly renewable Eucalyptus trees instead of microplastics.
  • Mini growing kits, including a Mardi Gras Tea Time Kit, a Basil Herb Starter Kit, and a Louisiana Native Flower Starter Kit.

Lousiana native plant starter kit for Mardi Gras throw.Photo courtesy of Grounds Krewe.

Louisana native flower starter kit for Mardi Gras throw.

This year, I was thrilled to catch a Louisiana Native Flower Starter Kit containing seeds produced and collected locally by the Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans. It’s the Mardi Gras waste elimination concept that keeps on growing.



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