Mardi Gras season is over, and we are now in the more solemn religious season of Lent.
Mardi Gras, which means Fat Tuesday, with its parades and colorful costumes, always generates a fair amount of news coverage in various parts of the world, particularly in New Orleans.
The Times-Picayune is the local paper, and it recently ran an editorial “on a more sustainable Mardi Gras.”
The paper noted that there’s nothing better during Mardi Gras than “the catch.” You make eye contact with a masked rider on a float and score a piece of Carnival treasure.
For two weeks, you fill bags with pounds of glittery beads, hula hoops, glow-in-the-dark bracelets and necklaces and blinky rings.
Then, at the end, you’ve got to figure out what to do with all that plastic, most of which you’ll never put on again.
Some throws are usable, like the zippered pouches and mini-notebooks from Muses, the cellphone lanyard from Nyx or the glass beads some krewes have started throwing again. Some are coveted keepsakes, like the Zulu coconut, Muses shoes and Nyx purses.
Some people use beads for their art, and some sort their loot and take it to ARC of Greater New Orleans to be repackaged and reused.
But most of those strings of plastic go into landfills or, as New Orleanians have learned, into storm drains. Tons of beads and other trinkets never make it home with anyone. They litter the streets and sidewalks and are scooped up and sent to landfills by the street-cleaning crews who follow parades.
The city found 46 tons of Mardi Gras beads in New Orleans’ drainage system along five blocks of St. Charles Avenue in 2018. That’s 92,000 pounds on just one small section of the parade route.
Street-cleaning crews scoop up about 900 tons of waste on average during the Mardi Gras season. Last year, that number was nearly 1,200 tons, according to the city.
“We have to face the consequences at the end of the parade,” Howard Mielke, a Tulane University pharmacology professor, told Times-Picayune reporter Maria Clark. “Watching the gigantic sanitation trucks come by at the end. visually, it’s spectacular to see that take place.”
We were glad to read in the Times-Picayune that recycling efforts are growing, and the city is putting bumpers across some storm drains to keep the beads out. South Louisiana is one of the most environmentally fragile places on earth. It needs to be better protected from pollution.
No one wants to lose the thrill of the catch, but revelers should be more thoughtful and careful about what gets tossed off a float.