It is possible Carnival is the only time of year “Who Dat” chants are drowned out by another equally passionate exclamation. In the coming weeks “Throw me something mister!” will reign supreme as young and old alike jockey to receive the coveted throws from float riders in parades filling New Orleans’ streets. Many may trek home with bags of their bounty, but more often than not a majority of the throws become trash, clogging drains that aggravate street flooding. According to a 2018 article in The Times-Picayune, Carnival produces a whopping average of 900 tons of waste each year from beads and throws. Fortunately, there’s an alternative to leaving your beads on the street or cluttering your attic – one that benefits our community and the environment.
For over 30 years, ArcGNO has created wage-earning jobs for individuals with intellectual disabilities by collecting, sorting and repackaging Mardi Gras beads and throws. I jumped on the opportunity to visit the Mardi Gras Recycle Center and was blown away by the Metairie facility. With permanent recycling centers and drop off bins placed throughout the community year round, you can imagine the volume of more than 173 tons of beads and throws collected in 2019 could be an overwhelming undertaking. But over the years, the ArcGNO Mardi Gras Recycle Center has honed its operations into “a major business opportunity for social enterprise and our employees” notes Toni Wright, manager of the center.
I first entered the warehouse where mammoth boxes, each hold more than 1,000 pounds of beads are stored. These boxes are then moved to a meticulously organized processing room where the 40 Arc team members, full- and part-time, plus thousands of volunteers put in full days sorting, banding and packaging beads in crawfish sacks. “It isn’t simply a process of grabbing beads and putting them in a bag, there’s a detailed method,” Wright explains. The processing room, lined with hooks and bins for organizing every color and type of bead or throw imaginable, was swimming with contagious happy energy as I observed a group of intellectually disabled adults sorting diligently.
Once packaged, the beads and throws are sold in the center’s retail store (open weekdays 9 a.m.-4 p.m. year round and Saturdays 9 a.m.-1 p.m. through Carnival season) or to one of the Carnival organizations partnering with ArcGNO that offer recycled bead packages, encouraging a “greener” Carnival. “Pairing with ArcGNO, which has performed valuable work recycling beads in New Orleans for many years, makes perfect sense as part of the Rex Recycles effort,” says Rex official Jim Rapier. The retail store is a hidden gem, so tell all your parade riding friends the multiple benefits of purchasing beads from ArcGNO. The more recycled throws sold, the more jobs are created for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities – ArcGNO’s true goal.
The success of the Mardi Gras Recycle Center is essential to funding the mission and work of ArcGNO, which, since 1953, has been empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities so they can live fuller and more autonomous lives. Serving more than 600 individuals and families in Orleans and surrounding parishes, they also provide job coaching and placement for those seeking employment, day activities enabling individuals to be active and integrated into the community, and personal care attendants assisting with a variety of tasks in the home and around the community.
Thank you to ArcGNO’s Mardi Gras Recycle Center for making Carnival season benefit our city and individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families all year long.
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