It’s a beloved century-old Carnival season tradition in New Orleans — masked riders on lavish floats fling strings of colorful beads or other trinkets to parade watchers clamoring with outstretched arms. It’s all in good fun but it’s also a bit of a “plastics disaster,” says Judith Enck, a former Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator and president of the advocacy group Beyond Plastics.
Carnival season is at its height. The city’s annual series of parades began more than a week ago and will close out on Tuesday — Mardi Gras — a final day of revelry before Lent. Thousands attend the parades and they leave a mess of trash behind.
Despite a massive daily cleanup operation that leaves the post-parade landscape remarkably clean, uncaught beads dangle from tree limbs like Spanish moss and get ground into the mud under the feet of passers-by. They also wash into storm strains, where they only complicate efforts to keep the flood-prone city’s streets dry. Tons have been pulled from the aging drainage system in recent years.