Carnival Time Needs Work
~ Samantha Lewis
Let’s face it, the last thing anyone was thinking about during the famous Carnival time in New Orleans, was the fact that there may have been toxic chemicals all around them. From the objects tossed into the crowd to the parade route itself, the well-
known Mardi Gras beads and throws are more than a ‘must-have’ or a ‘tradition’ they are hazardous.
It is known that seventy-one percent of the beads contain levels of lead that exceed standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Committee. But as the ‘party’ closes down for the year, the talk is about the revelry – the cultural celebration that is fun for everyone (minus the environment). This is not “new” news by any stretch; the infamous chemicals in the beads have been spoken about year after year after year so that all locals and visitors, while celebrating a true historic tradition, would know of the ‘bad seed’ that comes to the ‘party.’
Yes, it is true that millions of pounds of trash are shoved into landfills each year after Mardi Gras has ended. In fact, it’s a statistic that New Orleans collected over 1,700 tons of garbage during the last ten days of Carnival, which added up to nearly $1.5 million they had to spend on sanitation. Yet even with all the ‘going green’ sentiment that the U.S. seems to have when it comes to headline news, a majority of attendees still throw trash on the ground, and pilot programs for recycling have been too small to have any noticeable effect.
Not many know that the bead tradition didn’t actually come along in the parades until the 1950’s. And the strings thrown to the attendees at that time were glass, imported from Czechoslovakia. Over time, a far cheaper source had to be found. It’s not surprising, as Mardi Gras grew, the beads needed to be purchased in mass quantities, and has become a multi-million dollar industry in China. The Mardi Gras beads have certainly moved up the ladder in production, but fallen far down the ladder when it comes to quality.
Another fact: Approximately 25 million pounds of beads are imported to New Orleans every year, with less than 2% recycled. However, there are organizations for the truly ‘green-minded’ who want to celebrate AND be a part of the action, yet not worry about being part of the problem.
There are companies out there that should be looked at, as well as organizations such as Verdi Gras. Working alongside the Arc of Greater New Orleans, they are responsible for collecting and repackaging the beads. Donations can be made right along that parade route in purple and gold bins, and all year-round via bins located throughout the city.
Another well-known brand is Zombeads, which uses repurposed and recycled materials to create paper beads and assorted throws, like voodoo dolls, and rice bags to sell to krewes. These throws are higher quality items and have far less of a negative impact on the environment. Profits from Zombeads go to support the work of the local environmental and social justice non-profit organization, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.
I Heart Louisiana, also creates eco-friendly, sustainable throws, and works to bring local artists and individuals in touch with krewes to ensure that production remains in New Orleans, bringing in an extra economy that is sorely needed.
It is highly important to understand that becoming eco-friendly where Mardi Gras is concerned not only cuts down on sanitation issues, but cuts down on some seriously toxic chemicals infiltrating the environment. The majority of beads made contain lead, cadmium, and a list of other chemicals. Some of these may be actually outlawed in some states. The Ecology Center estimates that in only one year, the total inventory of Mardi Gras beads can contain up to 900,000 pounds of hazardous flame retardants and 10,000 pounds of lead.
It’s frightening to know that these chemicals can and have played a part in huge health problems (cancer, birth defects, asthma, learning disabilities); and cause irreparable damage to the environment by seeping into the water table and finding a way into your food supply.
It’s time to do something about this. More people and more companies need to get involved. It is fun to enjoy the festivities and celebrate Carnival time, but it is necessary to find a way to protect the City so that the ‘party’ doesn’t have to come to an end.