Mardi Gras party celebrations are an environmental nightmare but steps have been taken in recent years to make the event less environmentally destructive. Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, in English, (aka Shrove Tuesday) is the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. The day after the party when the cleanup begins and in New Orleans has been dubbed "Trash Wednesday," due to the massive amount of garbage left behind by party goers on the streets.
While there are similar events called Carnival celebrations, in the Caribbean, Mexico and Brazil, New Orleans is in a class of its own in terms of its environmental impact. These celebrations commonly begin on the Christian feasts of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day) and culminating on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.
However in recent years Mardi Gras has gotten greener. Although this party is well known for its over the top excess, here are some of the initiatives, organizations and companies that have helped to make the festivities more sustainable
OnThe biggest environmental impact is attributable to the plastic beads that are distributed during the event. Each year over 25 million pounds of beads are distributed during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Most of $1 billion worth of plastic beads ultimately end up in landfills. Many of these toxic petroleum based beads are manufactured in factories where workers are treated inhumanely. These mostly plastic strings of beads are both the most popular "throws" and one of the most hazardous. Over 60 percent of the Mardi Gras Trinkets tested were above the US Consumer Product Safety Commission limit for lead in children’s products of 100 parts per million (ppm). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 40ppm as a limit. These trinkets are unregulated and the toxins in them leach into the environment.
A report published by Healthystuff.org in collaboration with VerdiGras indicates that there are a host of hazardous material in Mardi Gras trinkets including metals such as lead and Cadmium; phthalate plasticizers, brominated flame retardants; and chlorinated flame retardants.
In addition to being hazardous, plastic beads also contribute to a whole lot of waste that ends up in landfills. To help manage the problem of waste several groups are recycling these beads. These groups include the nonprofit group, Arc of Greater New Orleans, who follow parades with their "Catch and Release" float and urge people along the parade route to throw their beads back rather than throw them out. Their decorated trailer invites party goers to pitch their surplus beads and baubles at the end of the parade The company then sorts and resells the beads. The money earned goes back to their non-profit.
Other ways that people are minimizing their environmental impacts include bringing reusable cups for water and other beverages. When it comes to costumes it is always better to create your own out of recycled materials or buy used.
There are a number of organizations that are working to make Mardi Gras festivities more sustainable they include:
I Heart Louisiana is an organization aimed at creating an economically and environmentally sustainable Mardi Gras. They strive to strengthen the local economy and protect our natural resources. Their Brees' boutique sells sustainable Mardi Gras stuff made out of recycled materials. These products are the kind of trinkets that people will actually keep as opposed to throw away.
Arc Enterprises is a branch of the nonprofit Arc of Greater New Orleans. They provide jobs for intellectually disabled citizens with jobs such as landscape maintenance, janitorial services as well as its popular Vintage Garden, which also markets its own vegetable soups. Arc employees and volunteers sorted 100,000 pounds of beads that were donated by school bead drives, collected in bead recycling bins stationed at grocery stores, and donated by private citizens. The company then resells the beads enabling buyers to save a lot of money compared to the environmentally more destructive imported throws
Verdi Gras is a non-profit aimed at greening the Carnival practices and shifting our dependence away from foreign, petroleum based throws. VerdiGras has teamed up with Arc are to introduce recycling bins to Carnival
Zombeads is an organization that offers a line of locally sourced and recycled material throws. They also partner with independently owned businesses abroad that produce throws made by women living in poverty who are paid fair living wages.
Nola Brewing is a local brewery that takes steps to be more environmentally and socially responsible. Because New Orleans does not recycle glass, they only use cans for their beers. The can holders are furthermore made of recycled plastic and are marine-life friendly. They source their ingredients locally when possible, donate their spent grain to a local cattle farm, and support local non-profits like the Gulf Restoration Network.
Throw Me Something Local: A Green Mardi Gras Ball was an event that supports the local economy and advocates moving away from petroleum-based beads. This event is all about stewardship of culture, planet, and people. The event included a local throw competition, a recycled costume contest, local beer and food.
Video - Greener Mardi Gras
Video - Verdi Gras