Pandemic Mardi Gras Means Less Trash, Finally

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After Mardi Gras in 2019, garbage trucks collected 1,300 tons of trash, or about 2.6 million pounds, when the revelry was over. In the past, the city has even measured the success of Mardi Gras by the amount of trash it picked up.

For decades the heaps of garbage have been a perennial discussion, and for decades critics have been pushing for officials to do something about the problem. They say it’s not only bad for the environment — a lot of those plastic beads, trinkets and trash end up in landfills — but also bad for drainage, because much of it gets stuck in the city’s storm drains. The beads have been found to contain lead and other toxins.

After the Department of Public Works pulled about 40 tons of beads out of the storm drains in 2018, the Urban Conservancy held a summit to discuss possible solutions. Mayor LaToya Cantrell last year banned krewe members from throwing entire bags of beads off floats, but otherwise not much has changed, policy-wise.

This year, advocates for a “greener” Mardi Gras are hoping the city can learn something from a carnival without parades, and the plastic excesses that traditionally come with them.

Grounds Krewe is one of several nonprofit organizations devoted to reducing the environmental impact of the holiday, from the production and shipping of beads from China, to what happens to them when they hit the ground. The group even started a krewe called TrashFormers, which collects trash and recyclables along parade routes.

Founder Brett Davis wants to replace plastic beads with locally sourced throws, like little bags of rice and beans or wooden toothbrushes.

“Why is this stuff being made halfway around the world … to be thrown off a float only to land in the street … only to be dumped into a landfill?” he said.

Locally made throws haven’t been an entirely easy sell because they are more expensive. Still, Davis has been working to change the culture of each krewe, rider by rider. He makes little sample bags to distribute to them.

With parades canceled this season, Davis sees it as an opportunity to rethink the holiday.

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