After Mardi Gras, locals are left with an abundance of plastic beads.
Image: gary yim /

Mardi Gras arrived this week and in Louisiana, it came with dozens of parades filled with marching bands, colorful floats and the infamous throwing of Mardi Gras beads. The goal of any crowd is to catch as many as possible, usually leaving partygoers barely able to turn their heads with the amount of beads.

The problem is, when all the tourists leave and Mardi Gras is over, towns are left with an excess of plastic beads. Until recently, there wasn’t really a solution for locals with an abundance of beads, other than throwing them out. The beads often have metallic paint, so they can’t be melted down and made into something else—but they can be reused for more parades. One organization in New Orleans has recognized this niche: they recycle and resell the beads.

Recycling coordinator Margie Perez tells NPR, “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.”

Usually volunteers will walk behind parades and encourage people to donate while Perez rides in her van filled with bins along parade routes. The Arc will resell the beds for around $1per pound, much cheaper than stores selling new beads.