I can honestly say I never thought about what happens to all the Mardi Gras beads left behind once all the festivities are over. Turns out it's actually a big problem. According to an article from AFAR at msn.com, in 2018 sanitation workers in New Orleans extracted more than 93,000 pounds of Mardi Gras beads from clogged storm drains along a five-block stretch of St. Charles. That's nearly 47 tons of debris. Mardi Gras produces around 1.2 million pounds of garbage in less than two weeks and the majority of it is single-use plastic like cups, hats, toys, beads, etc. After seeing these numbers the city decided they needed to make the popular festival more sustainable.
In an ideal world imagined by Arc, whose primary mission is to support children and adults with down syndrome, autism or other intellectual disabilities or delays, people toss beads from the floats, parade goers catch them, wear them and recycle them in the nearest receptacle. In hopes that people actually follow this plan, Arc has placed the recycling containers around the city in public spaces. Once the recycled beads are collected in the receptacles Arc picks up, sorts, repackages and resells. According to the article in 2019 about 170 tons of plastic trinkets were recycled and put back into the parades. There's one very important thing parade goers need to remember and that is to not throw food or liquid into the recycling bins. If one hot dog or beer ends up in the bin the entire thing and all its contents would be trash, even if there's 200 pounds of beads in there.