Recycle your Beads
Mardi Gras “throws”, the trinkets thrown by Krewe members from floats to parade goers, have a pretty rich history. Modern throws, however, are largely made up of cheap plastic strings of beads, which end up littering the streets or tossed into trash cans. Some groups have started recycling these beads, such as Arc of Greater New Orleans, who follow parades with their “Catch and Release” float. The group encourages parade-goers to throw their beads back, then sorts and resells the beads to Mardi Gras Krewes, reducing cost for the Krewes and wastage for everyone. The money Arc earns from sales goes directly back to their non-profit work. If you find yourself catching beads in a city where it’s not so easy to recycle, you can always try your hand at recycling them into colorful art work.
Re-gift Collectable Throws
In amongst the masses of plastic beads, you might be lucky enough to snag some more collectable throws. Traditional glass beads, commemorative doubloons, customized beads, decorated coconuts and all manner of flashing LED toys are just some of the items you might catch—and no, you really don’t need to remove your clothing to get them. If the trinkets aren’t your thing, there’s almost certainly a kid around too short to catch the throws, so pass them along to those who’ll enjoy them and they’ll be less likely to wind up in landfill.
Bring a Reusable Cup
If you’re celebrating Mardi Gras in a City with more liberal open container laws, such as New Orleans, bring your reusable cup. Chances are you’ll patronize more than one bar on your Mardi Gras travels, and while commemorative plastic cups are a treasured throw from various Mardi Gras Krewes, you certainly don’t need to collect (and throw out) a different cup from each bar you visit.
Bring a Reusable Water Bottle
It’s pretty important to stay hydrated through Mardi Gras Festivities, but waiting in line to buy bottles of water is neither environmentally friendly nor a fun use of your parade time. Bring a reusable water bottle with you and you’ll be free to focus on the party, plus you’ll be surprised how many establishments provide Cambros of water for you to fill up your container with. It’s free, and often the line is much shorter than the one for more adult beverages.
Make your Own Costume
This is a bit of a Mardi Gras no-brainer. While it’s perfectly possible to pick up feathered masquerade headgear around a lot of parades, Mardi Gras is the perfect opportunity to channel your creative side and make a bright, fabulous festive outfit of your own. Dig through your own closet for any big-mistake purchases, embarrassing 80s relics, or unwanted hand-me-downs and go to town. Check out thrift stores for gaudy colors and feather boas. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can turn your old newspapers into Mardi Gras masks. There are no rules to Mardi Gras costuming, so run wild and reuse.
Ride a Bike!
With any Mardi Gras celebration comes large crowds, and very often a certain amount of festive drinking. Bring your bike instead of your car, and not only will you find it easier and safer to get around, you’ll also avoid guzzling gas in traffic jams. If costume making got your creative juices flowing, you can even think about decorating your bike! If you’re joining Mardi Gras on vacation, look around for bicycle rental, and perhaps consider taking a bike tour while you’re there.
Support or Join a Green Krewe (Or Start One of Your Own)
This one’s a little more ambitious and takes a little more planning than other items on this list. Eco-aware Mardi Gras Krewes are beginning to pop up, and they have a lot of ground to cover. Aside from from the proliferation of plastic throws, Mardi Gras floats are often largely made of paper mache and crepe paper, and pulled by tractors or trucks. In New Orleans, Krewe of Kolossus made their floats from recycled trash and other salvaged materials, while newcomer Verdi Gras make their beads from newspaper and salvaged wood in an effort to create a greener Mardi Gras that’s less dependent on imported plastic goods. Chattanooga’s smaller Mardi Gras celebrations come complete with pedal-powered floats. In most cases, anyone can join a Mardi Gras Krewe, though membership dues vary wildly. There’s huge room for growth in the push for a green Mardi Gras, so if you can, jump in and support those who are working towards a greener Carnival!
Lead image © Flickr User Christopher Policarpio; other images © Flickr Users: bdearth, Mark Gsthol, Infrogmation, cogdogblog, anoldent & brad.coy