Urban Conservancy’s Future of Mardi Gras Forum

The Urban Conservancy and a broad coalition of stakeholders including riding and marching Krewe members, throw vendors, Mardi Gras Indians, Baby Dolls, city staff, and nonprofits participated in “The Future of Mardi Gras” Forum on October 18th, 2018.

The UC’s Future of Mardi Gras Forum was an opportunity for “parade goers and parade throwers” to come together to brainstorm about everything from waste reduction along parade routes to locally made throws, and leave inspired to start new Mardi Gras traditions that will make their Carnival experience even better. While the spirit of carnival season is all about letting the good times roll,  we continue to look to each other for inspired ways we can do just that without trashing the city we live in and love.

This community conversation acknowledges that Mardi Gras is one of the key economic drivers of the city, and one that also has an enormous environmental impact. 

 


Future of Mardi Gras Forum

Where: Carver Theater, 2101 Orleans Ave.

When: Thursday, October 18, 2018

Schedule of Events

5:30 – 6:00 PM Doors open; Networking

6:00 – 7:15 PM  Panel discussion moderated by Errol Laborde

7:15 – 9:00 PM Interactive roundtables; Mardi Gras services/products expo 

 


More Details

Moderated Panel

A discussion on tradition and innovation in Mardi Gras; What is your ideal Mardi Gras? Hosted by Errol Laborde with District B Councilmember Jay H. Banks (and past Zulu King); Judy Boudreaux (Threaux, Inc.); Antoinette de Alteriis (Costume Director of the Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc and the President of the Gulf Coast International Costumers Guild); and John Magill (noted author and Mardi Gras historian).

Round Tables

Tables hosted by topic area experts to share ideas and take action. Table topics and lead facilitators are:

Mardi Gras Civics (Dana Eness): How do the various parts of city government that help Mardi Gras happen operate? How do sanitation, permitting and parade fees work? How do Krewes organize and operate?
Waste Reduction and Prevention (Brett Davis): How can the public and businesses along the parade routes and Krewes be better stewards of our streets? What options and ideas are out there for throw and disposable waste prevention and recycling?

Crafting in Community (Antoinette de Alteriis): Krewes as maker spaces- How do groups create sustainable, repurposed, upcycled, and unique items that express their identity and message with minimal packaging? How has this changed the face of Mardi Gras? How does this translate to a year-round fostering of community and creativity? Can this be scaled up to encompass the larger Mardi Gras experience?

Off the Beaten Path: Neighborhood Traditions (Cherice Harrison-Nelson): What shared challenges can be tackled together by those participating in traditions which don’t include throws but are the product parade goers are coming for (walking/dancing Krewes including marching bands, social aid and pleasure clubs, Baby Dolls, Mardi Gras Indians, and others)?
Open Discussion (Marla Nelson): What topics are not covered by the other round tables? Proliferation of Mardi Gras ladders and other “reservations” on public space for personal use? Parade routes? Bead toxicity? Everything is on the table here!
Expo

Learn about the latest in Mardi Gras-related goods and services, including “Mardi Gras throws worth catching.”

 


Sponsors

LCI Workers Comp, WWNO, Grounds Krewe, Krewe Delusion, The Okra Inn

Collaborators and Expo Vendors

Life City, No Waste NOLA, Atlas Handmade Beads, Sierra Club, Arc GNO, Republic Services, 3D Beads, Throw Me Something Green, NOLA Craft Culture, Bayou Throws, No Straws NOLA, The New Orleans Costume Center, Elektra Cosmetics, Gilda’s SHUZ Suite

 

 

Update 8

Feb 2020

A growing number of locals are calling for a greener Mardi Gras, but weaning ourselves from cheap plastic won’t be easy.

Nathan Simpson looked at home amid the chaotic swirl of costumed revelers at the recent krewedelusion parade lineup, sporting a blue bodysuit and peering through glowing red lenses at the crowd. Tonight he was Recyclops, and he had a mission: to collect all the aluminum cans and plastic bottles he could get his hands on.

Simpson is one of about 20 members of the Trashformers, Mardi Gras’ first recycling-themed marching krewe. While recycling is the focus, the group, founded in 2019 by local architect Brett Davis, hopes to spark a broader conversation about Mardi Gras waste, including the plastic beads and throws now synonymous with the season.

The interactive recycling Krewe: The Trashformers! Photo by Matthew Hinton

Members dress in eco-pun costumes (Simpson’s Recyclops, inspired by Marvel X-Men superhero Cyclops, was joined by a Pacific Garbage Patch Kid and Oscar the Recycling Grouch), and deploy a fleet of lime-green shopping carts to collect cans and bottles directly from parade-goers.

Simpson, a New Orleans native, said he joined Trashformers to show that we can be responsible without killing the Mardi Gras fun. He grew up going to parades and loves Carnival krewes and balls, but the waste is a problem, he said.

It’s not about changing Mardi Gras, Simpson said, “it’s about changing the culture of how we experience Mardi Gras.”

Simpson isn’t alone. As New Orleans faces a host of ecological threats — climate change, sinking land and flooding to name a few — a growing number of locals are calling for an environmental reboot of the city’s Carnival experience, and a break from the throw-away culture and cheap plastic beads and trinkets ubiquitous at parades.

This year, several large krewes, including Rex and Bacchus, have publicized efforts to cut back on the amount of plastic members throw. Arc of Greater New Orleans, which sorts and re-sells beads, employing adults with disabilities in the process, reports donations more than tripled to 190 tons ahead of Mardi Gras 2020. Even the City Council weighed in, approving a new ordinance that bans riders from throwing the plastic bags that beads are packaged in.

Volunteers collect beads for recycling at ARCGNO as they trail the day parades on Sunday, February 23, 2020. (Photo by Michael DeMocker)

Is a greener, plastic-free Mardi Gras possible? Sustainability advocates are optimistic, though they acknowledge it will require a major cultural shift. The answer is more complicated for krewes and riders.

“It’s about changing the culture of how we experience Mardi Gras.”

Cheap plastic trinkets underpin the economics of the season, allowing krewes to attract riders and generate revenue. Wholesalers make millions of dollars on the roughly 25 million pounds of beads imported from China every year, and parade-goers have come to expect a deluge of loot on the route.

Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans are big and bountiful, and that generates a lot of money for the city and local businesses, said Dan Kelly, president of the Krewe of Endymion, whose 3,200 riders each toss 500 pounds of throws on average. Kelly also owns Beads by the Dozen, a wholesaler that imports roughly 5 million pounds of throws each year.

“If you make it too expensive for people to throw these greatest shows on Earth for free, New Orleans is going to dry up,” Kelly said. “It’s not going to be the city that we’re known for.”

At the same time, the cost of cleaning up after parades is rising and taxpayers are footing the bill. The City of New Orleans spent $1.5 million to collect 2.6 million pounds of trash during the two-week height of Mardi Gras season in 2018, according to city records. That was a 60% jump in spending from 2008.

That price doesn’t factor in the toll Chinese-made plastic throws take on our health and infrastructure, said Dana Eness, executive director of The Urban Conservancy. Researchers have found unsafe levels of lead and a range of other toxins in imported beads, which can remain in trees, yards and sewers well after parades. In 2018, city contractors pulled 93,000 pounds of beads from clogged catch basins along the St. Charles Avenue parade route. The headline shocked locals and got national attention.

“The reality is there’s a huge cost that New Orleanians bear, but tourists do not, in terms of wear and tear on the infrastructure, clogged drains, flooding. Things we’re paying for in all sorts of ways,” Eness said. Read the full article here.

 

Update 7

Mar 2019

The Urban Conservancy understands that the cultural and physical environments of New Orleans have an important relationship with Mardi Gras. When we began hearing about the growing concerns from the community of New Orleans surrounding the current state of Mardi Gras, we decided to host the “Future of Mardi Gras” forum in October of 2018 and talk about ways Mardi Gras can “green up” its act.

Current concerns

Current concerns are centered around the way Mardi Gras has evolved into having a negative impact on the environment and the way past traditions have been buried – some argue beneath all the waste of the approximately 25 million pounds of toxic plastic beads imported annually into our fragile ecosystem (see survey results here.)

Dozens of organizations and hundreds of individuals came out to and participated in the forum proving that there are people dedicated to making Mardi Gras greener and cleaner. We want to take a look at what has happened since the forum and how greening efforts have materialized this Mardi Gras season as we return to the question that started it all: what is the future of Mardi Gras?

Momentum is growing around a greener Gras

This Mardi Gras season, the growth of recycling efforts took center stage as a number of groups and organizations, including the Trashformers, ArcGNO, Young Leadership Council (YLC Recycles), and Grounds Krewe led creative initiatives to reduce the amount of trash to be sent to landfills collected by the city.

ArcGNO has been recycling Mardi Gras throws and creating jobs through their efforts for over 30 years, but this year, Jessika England said they were proud to have achieved an organized effort for the first time with the help of YLC Recycles and Grounds Krewe and hope to continue organizing collectively for future seasons. ArcGNO also created a “Throw ‘Em Back” float that rode at the end of four Jefferson parish floats to be included in future parades.

YLC Recycles was able to expand their recycling efforts from one parade last year to three parades this year: Krewe du Vieux, Freret, and Tucks. Urban Conservancy partnered with YLC Recycles to find volunteers to help recycle during Tucks! Rachel Skowyra from YLC Recycles noted that they plan to continue recycling efforts for these three parades and expand the recycling route past Uptown.

The Trashformers, an “innerkrewe” of krewedelusion, wore costumes to reflect their theme of “Revenge of the Storm Drains” and rode green bikes welded to grocery baskets while encouraging parade-goers to hand over their cans, beads, and other plastics for recycling. They also created a petition calling for the city of New Orleans to do away with plastic throws that collected 15,000 signatures.

Grounds Krewe, who partnered with Urban Conservancy, Entergy, ArcGNO and Republic Services, used this same grocery basket and bike fusion to hand out and pick up bags for parade-goers to fill with plastic throws, cans, and bottles for the Muses and Thoth parades. This collaborative initiative was able to collect 7,000 pounds of throws and 6,000 cans and plastic bottles during Thoth alone!

People are noticing

Not only did this Mardi Gras season see remarkable progress in the number of organizations working together to green Mardi Gras; there was also a proliferation of media coverage surrounding greening efforts. WWNO featured Dana Eness of Urban Conservancy on two segments discussing the past, present, and future of Mardi Gras and what attendees of the forum had to say about the future of Mardi Gras. National Geographic also recently featured Dana in an article covering the current state of Mardi Gras along with many others who were present at the forum. And the media buzz does not stop here. Featured below is a collection of press both locally and nationally which highlighted the work of so many during this Mardi Gras season.

Here’s a list of articles about Green Mardi Gras featured on our website:

National Geographic article written about rethinking Mardi Gras without the plastic beads by Alejandra Borunda

Inside the Arts interview with Diane Mack about ways to parade responsibly (WWNO)

Coastal News Roundup with Travis Lux and Thomas Walsh about findings from the forum (WWNO)

Biz New Orleans spotlighting the “Future of Mardi Gras” forum and Grounds Krewe

Clip from WWLTV about Grounds Krewe recycling efforts 

Big Easy Magazine talks about amount of trash collected 

NOLA.com article by Maria Clark featuring forum participants. 

Trashformers featured in The Lens about their recycling efforts and petition: 

And don’t forget to check out the cover story for the Carnival Edition (February) of New Orleans Magazine!

Update 6

Mar 2019

Entergy Newsroom

The community-driven recycling effort focused on reducing the adverse environmental effects of Carnival season. Beads, throws and other recyclable materials were collected during a Mardi Gras recycling initiative conducted through a new sustainability partnership between Entergy Corporation, Grounds KreweThe Urban ConservancyArcGNO and Republic Services. Volunteers and workers from the Youth Empowerment Project distributed and picked up recyclable bags that were filled by parade goers along the Uptown parade route on Sunday, March 3.

“It is my hope that incorporating recycling into Mardi Gras helps expand New Orleanians’ perceptions of what is possible when it comes to protecting and sustaining the environment,” said Kathryn, a volunteer and manger in Entergy’s ethics & compliance department.

Through this community partnership, volunteers walked 30 city blocks and collected 3.5 tons of Mardi Gras beads & throws and 7,000 cans & bottles following three parades.

 

Read full article.  03/28/2019

Update 5

Feb 2019

As seen in Biz New Orleans:

NEW ORLEANS – Parade goers can take advantage of more recycling options this Carnival season, thanks to several initiatives underway. Some of those initiatives were a result of The Future of Mardi Gras forum, hosted by local organizations the Urban Conservancy and Grounds Krewe. Participants of the forum, which took place last fall, shared details in a press release.

“The forum brought 300 New Orleanians together to discuss ways to reduce the adverse environmental impact of Carnival season while growing the local economic impact,” says Dana Eness, Urban Conservancy’s director. “It encouraged New Orleanians to continue to share their ideas for more sustainable practices on and off the parade route and launch initiatives that shift the focus away from trashing the city and toward uplifting more local, ethical, green traditions. This Carnival season, we’re seeing the results of connections made at the forum.” Read Full Biz New Orleans article. 

Update 4

Feb 2019

Green groups are urging revelers to recycle, reuse, and reconnect with the pre-plastic soul of a great celebration.

This National Geographic article features the voices of several individuals who planned and participated in the Future of Mardi Gras forum.  The Urban Conservancy organized the forum in partnership with Grounds Krewe in October 2018.

 

Update 3

Feb 2019

The Grounds Krewe has partnered with Entergy, Urban Conservancy, Republic Services, and ArcGNO to organize its second annual “on the route” throw and disposable waste recycling program!

Click here to volunteer during the Muses parade this carnival season.

Update 2

Nov 2018

by Jesse Baum

Uptown Messenger (November 5, 2018)

Parade throws, one the biggest draws of the Carnival season, have become one of its biggest sources of controversy, with a growing push to move Mardi Gras away from the waste and excess symbolized by the all the plastic beads filling our streets and catch basins after every parade.

An Urban Conservancy conference held at the historic Carver Theater on Oct. 18 was titled “The Future of Mardi Gras.” Its focus was on sustainability and culture; panelists and environmental advocates discussed how to return the focus to the local artistry that creates Mardi Gras’ most memorable floats, throws and costumes.

Read the full article.

Update 1

Oct 2018

The historic Carver Theater on Orleans Avenue was the venue Oct. 18, 2018, where eclectic groups of people shared their passion for Mardi Gras traditions and concerns about how to make the biggest free party on Earth more Earth-friendly. Urban Conservancy director Dana Eness and co-host Brett Davis with Grounds Krewe led discussions around recylable throws (ARC of Greater New Orleans began recycling beads last year and needs more volunteers to help sort and expand); biodegradable materials, including glitter and paints; beads created from recycled magazines; and education for krewes and the public about how  they can change the throw-away culture.

 

Full article

Future of Mardi Gras Forum Report

On Wednesday, September 12, 2018, over 300 community members attended the Future of Mardi Gras forum. Attendees were asked to fill out a brief survey about their current participation and future vision for Carnival, and 76 did so. Read the full Mardi Gras Forum Report.

 

2013 Bead Toxicity Report

The Chemical Hazards in Mardi Gras Beads & Holiday Beaded Garlands Full Report

 


Press

National Geographic

Local ‘green’ groups featured in Nat Geo! | 2/22/19

Sustainable Mardi Gras Beads

Atlas Handmade Beads featured on WWL | 2/21/19

Throw Me Something Green!

In this Carnival Edition of New Orleans Magazine, Ashley McLellan and Theresa Cassagne showcase three companies providing eco-friendly Mardi Gras initiatives.

Biodegradable Mardi Gras beads face cost hurdle

The Advocate gets us familiar with the latest developments in biodegradable bead technology by scientists and professors at LSU.

Recycling program returns to Uptown parade route for Mardi Gras 2019

Kevin Allman spotlights the recycling efforts of the Young Leadership Council and the Arc of Greater New Orleans in this Gambit article.

Can Mardi Gras value artistry over excess?

Read Jesse Baum’s coverage of the forum in the Uptown Messenger here.

Melinda Shelton covered the forum for nola.com and got some great photos of our vendors.

Future of Mardi Gras Forum