Mardi Gras is a time of celebration in New Orleans, with parades, parties, balls, and beads. However, after the festivities, the streets are left with approximately 1,250 tons of parade-viewing trash, such as empty food and drink containers. The discarded novelties can be found in New Orleans' streets throughout the Carnival season. To address this, the New Orleans Department of Sanitation employs around 500 people to clean up the trash in the streets during Mardi Gras, using an entire fleet of equipment and machinery. The process can cost taxpayers and the city over a million dollars per year.
The River Birch Landfill in Avondale is where Mardi Gras goes to die. Over a thousand tons of parade remnants are dumped into the ground there—the weight of 200 elephants' worth of garbage. However, the landfill is a preferable alternative to allowing the remains of Carnival’s past to clog up New Orleans' gutters and drains. One year, they removed a sum total of 93,000 pounds of beads and 7.2 million pounds of debris from city storm drains within just five blocks along St. Charles Avenue. That's the weight of around 365 parade floats. Although the Department of Sanitation puts out over a thousand 55-gallon trash barrels on parade routes, people still choose to discard their Mardi Gras belongings on the route. As a result, the Department of Sanitation starts recruiting staff and volunteers a year in advance to make sure that they have enough people for the job, and they aim to complete the cleaning of each parade route within three hours of the end of the parade.
In order to divert some of the waste from the landfill, programs such as Arc of Greater New Orleans (ArcGNO), as well as the Department of Sanitation, recycle tens of thousands of pounds of beads annually. Grounds Krewe is a nonprofit organization that promotes waste reduction through both waste prevention and recycling. Their initiatives include passing out recycling bags to parade-goers along the routes and collecting recyclables from the crowds mid-parade.
Next time you find yourself at Mardi Gras or another large parade event, be sure to make use of these programs and choose eco-friendly alternatives for to-go ware and parade throws, such as beads. CIRT is also excited to make a difference in solid waste management and circularity and is a great tool in knowing where to dispose of items and which materials to use.
For more information about the large parade events, such as Mardi Gras, and their effects on solid waste management, read here.