Greening the Gras to Boost Local Economy

By Colleen Morgan

Verdi Gras is a nonprofit established last year to advocate for more environmentally sustainable Carnival practices. The group’s motto is “Throw me something recycled!”

On December 4, the Verdi Gras krewe held the first Economic and Environmental Impact of Mardi Gras Conference at Café Istanbul in the New Orleans Healing Center to explore ways in which a greener Mardi Gras could be a benefit to the local economy. About 50 people attended, including members of Mardi Gras krewes.

A panel discussion was preceded by an exhibit of local companies marketing more sustainable throws. Members of Kolossos (Kolossos.org) were on hand to talk about and model recycled throws, costumes and other Mardi Gras paraphernalia.

Panel members included Kirk Groh, a co-founder of Verdi Gras, Vance Levesque from the Arc of Greater New Orleans, Kristen Evans from the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and Karina Nathan from Kolossos. The discussion centered around challenges that krewes face to go greener and the possibilities for locally produced alternatives to the plastic beads and other throws that krewes currently purchase.

Groh presented figures on the amount of money spent on the plastic variety of throws on an annual basis. According to a study by Tulane Professor Toni Weiss, Mardi Gras krewes spend a total of $7.4 million on beads, while individual krewe members spend an additional $4.37 million, for a grand total of $11.78 million.

“Unfortunately, the most convenient throw items remain plastic beads from oversees,” Groh said. “If the members of one Super Krewe spend an average of $1500 each on throws, it equates to $56,000 per block. Assume 75% of that is spent on retail/bulk priced beads, then one krewe will throw 15 tons of plastic beads per block over a 70 block route – totaling 1,050 tons.”

Levesque, from Arc of Greater New Orleans, outlined his organization’s program to recycle beads, which includes bins at grocery stores as well as trailers that follow parades. Arc employs intellectually disabled individuals to sort the beads at a living wage for resale to krewes.

Evans, from the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, spoke about the root of the problem being the consumption of oil and plastic by our society. Through a program called Zombeads, the organization is promoting throws that are made in New Orleans with recycled materials.
Karina Nathan from Kolossos received applause when she stated she would like to see “more show and less throw.”

Groh also explained that the goal of Verdi Gras is not to put a damper on anyone’s Mardi Gras, but to find ways to decrease the carbon footprint while bringing more of the money spent on throws back into our local economy.

VerdiGras is holding its second annual All Green Ball on January 12 from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. at Southport Hall, with a patron party starting at 6:30pm. This event is the organization’s primary fundraiser. For information on attending this event or for tickets, call 504-710-4780.

Colleen Morgan, Environmental Editor, may be reached at colleen.nolahealthyliving@gmail.com