A More Green Mardi Gras

By: Isha Goel

It is that time of the year. Over a one month span, purple, green, and gold fills every crevice of New Orleans. The town begins to come together in light of the festivities that are ahead. The energy of the people is so up-beat that nothing can bring it down; that is until they become cognizant of how detrimental these same celebrations are to the city of New Orleans. 

In the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras day, there are approximately eighty parades that take place throughout the city. Each of these parades comes with a unique selection of throws that eager parade-goers rush to collect. Given that the parades distribute about 25 million pounds of plastic beads, there are only so many items that an individual can accumulate before they begin to dodge the throws and abandon them on the ground. Mere moments after the parades begin, the throws begin to pile up around the parade route and eventually contribute to the 150 tons of waste generated each year.

In response to this pervasive issue, the city of New Orleans has begun the ‘Recycle DAT’ project including a range of local organizations that have partnered with the city in an effort to make Mardi Gras more environmentally sustainable. These organizations depend on community members to volunteer their time and labor to carry out their recycling plans. One issue: it is difficult to make such a drastic change while relying solely on volunteers. That’s where the role of ArcGNO comes into play. 

ArcGNO’s Mardi Gras Recycle Center is working to combat the sustainability crisis New Orleans is currently facing while also providing jobs to individuals with disabilities in the community. These jobs include the collecting, repackaging, and sorting of the beads and various throws that are collected during Mardi Gras season. To better understand the impact ArcGNO has made, Jennifer Canady-Lauritsen, the Development Manager of ArcGNO, says that they “process well over a hundred tons of beads a year,” which then “keeps that stuff out of the landfills and there does not have to be that much new product brought in for Mardi Gras celebration as we can resell the same stuff over and over again.”

The work being done at the Mardi Gras Recycle Center exemplifies the reason this organization was initiated in the first place. In 1953, a group of parents who had children with developmental delays and intellectual disabilities came together to form the local organization of Arc of Greater New Orleans (ArcGNO). This organization was created to increase the inclusion of and participation by individuals with disabilities in society. Some of ArcGNO’s efforts include assisting individuals in finding appropriate therapies and treatments, exploring options after high school graduation, engaging in the community, advocating for themselves, and securing employment. 

The Mardi Gras Recycle Center is one of the many initiatives that ArcGNO has to ensure that individuals with disabilities are supported in their search for employment. ArcGNO has, “an employment services department that can provide job skills, training, and coaching so that individuals with disabilities can work and earn a wage enough that they can be as independent as they would like to be,” says Canady-Lauritsen. 

It is evident that this organization has the potential to reverse the damaging effects that the commercial Mardi Gras season brings to New Orleans. Despite a collective effort between ArcGNO and other organizations that have been working to combat this problem for decades, we are still in the midst of this environmental crisis. In order to see real change, individuals in our community need to be made aware of this pertinent problem and how they can do their part to make Mardi Gras more green for all. Between a joint community effort, NOLA officials, and avid parade-goers, the impact of the efforts already in place can be amplified and solidified.


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