If aliens happened to come down to earth in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, they probably would come away with a few key facts: humans like to drink, they like to dance, and they really, really like shiny plastic beads.
According to Elizabeth Eads at NPR, once the Mardi Gras hangover goes away, the bead hangover stays. “The problem is that when it's over, well, you're left with a bunch of plastic beads” she says. “Everyone in Louisiana has their own way of coping with this. Some keep them in the attic; some give them to out-of-towners; others just throw them away.”
But now, one company is trying to recycle those little shiny strings and, last year, managed to successfully repurpose 120,000 pounds of the necklaces. As Shane Stone pointed out on Twitter, that’s more than 60 walruses (by mass) worth of beads.
During Mardi Gras, the company's recruits drive around New Orleans in vans, urging party goers to hand over their unwanted treasure. Then, they bring those beads back to a warehouse, where they hand sort and resell them. Eads reports:
Then Arc will resell the beads at the average price of $1 per pound to people like Joseph Frost, who will throw them at later parades. For Frost, getting beads this way is much cheaper.
"If we'd have gotten our stuff through Orpheus, it probably would've been two grand for all those beads," he says.
The production of Mardi Gras beads happens largely in China. And in fact, according to Laura Ricks at the Times-Picayune, many of the Chinese workers have no idea that these little necklaces are mostly thrown away after the celebration. Ricks writes:
The Chinese workers who produce the beads believe the beads they are producing are considered real jewelry here and that people shop for the necklaces in jewelry stores. And, according to their bosses, they would be terribly hurt to find out otherwise.
“The owners of the factory have asked me numerous times not to tell the workers that we throw their things into the street,” said Dan Kelly, owner of Beads By The Dozen, a major supplier of Mardi Gras throws who buys most of his beads from one factory. “The owners said it would hurt their pride. And then they worry that would result in poorer quality.”
Perhaps they’d like to know, then, that their hard work is being recycled, to get a little more life.