Science and Environment
6:20 am
Sun March 2, 2014

Throw Me Something (Again), Mister: Mardi Gras Beads Revived

Originally published on Sun March 2, 2014 10:30 am

In Louisiana, Mardi Gras comes each year with dozens of parades filled with marching bands, colorful floats and parade-goers who scream, "Throw me something, Mister!"

That "something" the crowd wants are beads. The goal of any Mardi Gras parade is to catch as many as possible. After the revelry, people often have so many beads around their necks they can barely turn their heads.

The problem is that when it's over, well, you're left with a bunch of plastic beads. Everyone in Louisiana has their own way of coping with this. Some keep them in the attic; some give them to out-of-towners; others just throw them away.

But one organization in New Orleans has found a niche: It recycles and resells the beads. The beads have metallic paint and can't be melted down to be made into something else, but they can be reused for more parades. Arc, which advocates for people with developmental disabilities, recycled 120,000 pounds of Mardi Gras beads last year.

In the back of a nearly empty warehouse, recycling coordinator Margie Perez is completing a sale.

"We've sorted almost all of the beads that we've gotten donated, and so we have one box left," she says. "But if you were to come here in July, we would have rows and rows of boxes. At the height last year, I think we had 60 1,000-pound boxes."

Since their supply is low, Perez is going on a hunt. The plan is to walk behind the next parade and encourage people to recycle their beads at the moment their value drops.

She's in a van with 14 empty purple bins, riding along the parade route. On foot, 40 Tulane University students in need of community service credits are assigned bins.

They shout to the crowd, urging them to give up their treasure. Once the beads are collected, it's back to Arc's warehouse, where they will be hand-sorted.

Then Arc will resell the beads at the average price of $1 per pound to people like Joseph Frost, who will throw them at later parades. For Frost, getting beads this way is much cheaper.

"If we'd have gotten our stuff through Orpheus, it probably would've been two grand for all those beads," he says.

Copyright 2014 WRKF Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wrkf.org.

Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

It's Mardi Gras time in Louisiana this weekend, and that means marching bands, colorful floats and parade-goers who scream throw me something, mister. That something that the crowd wants is beads. Yeah, beads. The goal of any Mardi Gras parade is to catch as many as possible. But what happens to all the beads when the festival's over? Elizabeth Eads of member station WRKF reports.

ELIZABETH EADS, BYLINE: At a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, when you hear police sirens and see street sweepers, you know the parade is over.

(SOUNDBITE OF STREET SWEEPERS)

EADS: After the revelry, people often have so many beads around their necks they can barely turn their heads. The problem is that when it's over, well, you're left with a bunch of plastic beads. Everyone in Louisiana has their own way of coping with this problem.

RIYAH SCOTT: So, I say I'm going to put them in the attic.

ALLISON FAUCHEUX: I usually give them to friends who, like, are usually, like, in parades or whatever.

ZACHARY HAND: Throw them away.

GARY HILL: We actually...

KAREN HILL: Recycle them.

HILL: ...recycle them.

EADS: That's Riyah Scott, Allison Faucheux, Zachary Hand, Gary and Karen Hill after a recent parade. Mardi Gras beads use metallic paint and can't be melted down. So, one local organization has found a niche - it recycles and resells beads. Last year, the ARC in New Orleans recycled 120,000 pounds of them.

MARGIE PEREZ: Let's do those for the price of the loose ones, and you've got, what, nine? Instead of 35, we'll do them for the 30.

EADS: That's ARC's recycling coordinator, Margie Perez, in the back of a nearly-empty warehouse. She's completing a sale.

PEREZ: We've sorted almost all of the beads that we've gotten donated. And so we have one box left. Like, if you were to come here in, say, July, we would have rows and rows of boxes. Yeah. I think at the height last year, we had 60 thousand-pound boxes.

EADS: Since their supply is low, Perez is on a hunt. The plan is to walk behind the parade of Feret in New Orleans and encourage people to recycle their beads at the moment when their value drops. She's in a van with 14 empty purple bins along the parade route. Forty Tulane University students in need of community service credits are assigned a bin.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Recycle the beads that you don't want. Recycle the beads.

EADS: Once the beads are collected...

(SOUNDBITE OF BEADS SPILLING OUT)

EADS: ...it's back to ARC's warehouse, where they will be hand-sorted. Then they'll be resold at the average price of a dollar per pound to people like Cole Hernandez and Joseph Frost who will throw them at later parades.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Eight forty-three.

COLE HERNANDEZ: A lot cheaper, yeah.

JOSEPH FROST: If we'd have gotten our stuff through Orpheus, it probably would've been about two grand for all those beads.

HERNANDEZ: Yeah. No joke.

EADS: And it's back to the parades for the beads.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EADS: For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Eads.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LYDEN: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.