Throw Me Something Sustainable

Updated: Feb. 7, 2020 at 10:32 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Mardi Gras is upon us and that means lots of parades and of course, even more waste.

But with each Carnival, more and more riders are re-thinking what they toss from the floats.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of revelers beg for coveted throws at the biggest free party in the world. Those throws are often made of plastic.

Alyssa Conti joined the Krewe of Nyx in 2018 and immediately knew something had to give.

“Everyone just kept coming back to how do we not throw plastic beads?” says Conti. “It was just really disgusting and frustrating that you felt like one, that what you were throwing wasn’t desired, but two, what you were throwing was ending up in trash cans, in the sewer systems and was causing issues for people rather than the revelry which is what Mardi Gras should be.”

The amount of trash generated each carnival is staggering, more than 1000 tons of debris.

Without an official recycling program in New Orleans for all that plastic, there’s been a move afoot for years to rethink what Mardi Gras throws are made of. Is it possible to throw this gigantic party without creating so much waste?

For Conti, a Loyola law student, the answer was simple. She created a company called Purpose, Green and Goals.

It's a homegrown effort aimed at creating a more eco-friendly Mardi Gras.

"You start with a purpose, but eventually you can achieve any goals you want with this," Conti says.

She decided to start small with wood beads, and lots of them.

She started stringing them herself and has even held workshops to teach other riders how to do the same.

Conti says, "It's frustrating as a rider that that's the only option and that we're still at this grass roots movement to provide ourselves this eco-friendly option."

It doesn't take long to realize there's no large scale production happening and the work is tedious.

But Alyssa believes the idea is catching on, especially since some krewes already make their own signature throws.

"So kind of this idea of making Mardi Gras is taking hold again. There were actually a lot of riders very open to this idea of making their own throws that were eco-friendly to supplement what they already have," Conti says.

This year, her biggest clients are her parents, Charles and Paula Conti.

This year's King and Queen of Poseidon in Slidell were all aboard for their daughter's mission.

“It was really easy for us to take her vision and really have fun with the things we can throw,” says Paula.

They're throwing tumblers, tamborines, maracas and lots of hand-strung wooden and glass beads. The hope is that the throws don't get thrown away.

"We are throwing 100% eco-friendly throws." Paula says. "It actually makes us feel good because when you think about the environment and what we're throwing, we hope it will become a special part of their lives and that makes us feel really good to be a positive influence on Mardi Gras in 2020."

Conti says she sees what she's doing as a stop gap measure, not capable of replacing Mardi Gras beads which are mass produced.

She says she’s not looking to make money, just raise awareness and change the Mardi Gras culture.

"My number one goal is for them to catch it and know it's not plastic, and to know, I caught something that's a little bit better," says Conti.

Her ultimate hope is that Carnival krewes ask manufacturers for more eco-friendly options down the road.

There are a number of non-profits that already focus on the bead recycling aspect of Mardi Gras.

ArcNOLA collects beads year-round to recycle for a number of krewes.

Some krewes already had out a limited number of handmade throws.

Next year, the Krewe of Freret is set to roll out biodegradable beads, made from micro-algae at LSU.

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