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Biodegradable plastic beads made of algae debut at Mardi Gras

These may look like normal Mardi Gras beads, but are made of algae. Professor Naohiro Kato, a biological sciences at Louisiana State University, developed the biodegradable beads, which are making their public debut this year during some Carnival parades.
The Krewe of Tucks is one of the Carnival Krewes that is trying out the new algae-derived plastic beads this year. They attached a wooden doubloon with their logo, which is also biodegradable, to the beads.
Each year, the 2,200 men and women of Tucks get on their floats and parade down the streets of New Orleans. They toss beads and other assorted giveaways, known as throws, to the crowds that line the parade route.
The Krewe of Tucks is a Carnival season parade organization founded more than 50 years ago and named for the Robin Hood character Friar Tuck.
There is a side to the Mardi Gras celebration, though, that would make Mother Nature weep: all of the plastic left behind, including those plastic beads thrown from the parade floats. The hope is that the new biodegradable, algae-based beads might catch on with other Carnival parade Krewes.
Posted at 12:11 PM, Feb 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-28 14:11:24-05

NEW ORLEANS, La. — It’s carnival season in New Orleans with weeks of parades, all leading up to one day: Mardi Gras.

Part of the parade appeal includes all the throws you can catch, like beads, from floats.

There’s a side to the celebration, though, that would make Mother Nature weep: all of the plastic left behind, including those plastic beads.

“The petroleum-based plastics clearly have issues at times, when it comes with getting into the drains and clogging drains and just a general pollutant. I think we all know that,” said Robert Reichert, a float captain with the Krewe of Tucks.

The Krewe of Tucks is a Carnival season parade organization founded more than 50 years ago and named for the Robin Hood character Friar Tuck.

“Originally, the Krewe of Tucks was founded as kind of an anti-Krewe,” Reichert said. “They just wanted to have fun, represent a younger demographic of Carnival.

Each year, the 2,200 men and women of Tucks get on their floats and parade down the streets of New Orleans.

Inside of their float den, where their floats are stored, the final preparations were underway with the loading up of throws and beads.

However, this year, there’s a new addition.

“We are always trying to challenge the norm and see what we can do to be better than who we were yesterday,” Reichert said.

What’s new are beads, which may look like normal Mardi Gras beads, but are made of algae. Professor Naohiro Kato, a biological sciences at Louisiana State University, developed the biodegradable beads, which are making their public debut this year.

“We've come to the point where we now have some viable prototypes and beads that we can throw that are biodegradable, that we can actually throw to the crowds,” Reichert said.

For the Krewe of Tucks, trying out the new beads was a given.

“The safety of New Orleans, the safety for our future, comes with sustainable throws to display,” he said.

They’re not cheap, though. Each throw is $50.

“Is it the most-rare Carnival throw ever? I think, in this moment, it might be,” Reichert said.

The hope is that the cost of the beads will eventually come down, as the algae plastic is potentially used for other things and more Mardi Gras beads are created for more Carnival krewes to get onboard.

“As we progress and keep going and keep going, I know there's going to be other organizations that want to follow in our lead,” Reichert said.

Yet, getting your hands on these beads will take special, attention-grabbing efforts from the crowd along the parade route, because in New Orleans, letting the good times roll is a must.

“The best thing to do is smile, scream really loud and, if you want to make a sign, you can make a sign, too,” Reichert said. “We just want people to have fun. Have a good time. Just kind of make, to make the city a little bit better.”