Food, fun and festivities are just a few aspects of the carnival season, but the aftermath often furthers the environmental issues concerning Louisiana.
One LSU professor is working to combat the enormous waste produced by Mardi Gras beads in hopes for a cleaner future.
Mardi Gras in Louisiana comes with the tradition of throwing beads, but the plastic from these beads is hazardous to the environment.
With 93,000 pounds of beads found in New Orleans’ drainage systems in 2018, LSU biology professor Naohiro Kato was already creating a solution – biodegradable beads.
“One is 100 percent algae,” said Kato. “Basically, I put a chemical to convert oil into plastics.”
What started as a student’s mistake in 2014 now serves as the recipe for creating an eco-friendly Mardi Gras.
Gabela Nelson assists Dr. Kato in growing and harvesting algae at LSU before it’s sent off to a private company.
“From [little algae], we grow beads,” said Nelson. “Basically, I call myself the algae whisperer because there’s lots of people who can’t keep algae alive.”
Since the entire process takes about a year to complete, they are now growing algae in preparation for next season.
“The challenge is how can we make mass production,” said Kato.
Dr. Kato says working with this company is a big step for him so that riders can throw the beads next year.
Although many non-profit organizations in New Orleans encourage people to recycle beads, these efforts do not always work.
“So, of course, with the biodegradable beads, we have a natural source instead of using those chemicals,” said Nelson.
And what would usually take a couple of hundred years to degrade would now take less than three months.
Mainstreaming these beads to carnival season is the first step in combating a Louisiana environmental problem, and only next Mardi Gras season will tell if the environmental beads are implemented.