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Mardi Gras Is Getting Greener as New Biodegradable Beads Emerge

By Sophie Hirsh

From September 2017 until January 2018, a crew worked on cleaning clogged storm drains along St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. As The Times-Picayune reported, the massive cleanup recovered a whopping 93,000 pounds of plastic Mardi Gras beads, accumulated from years of festive Fat Tuesdays. But as more people become concerned about plastic's effect on the environment, plastic-free alternatives to the festive beads (also known as throws) are emerging. Most recently, a scientist developed a biodegradable version of the traditional beads, made from algae. 

Naohiro Kato, a Plant Cell Biologist and professor at Louisiana State University, spoke with Forbes about his inspiration for the algae-based beads. “I have family and friends who live in New Orleans and have been seeking to make the Mardi Gras celebration environmentally friendly,” Kato told Forbes. “When I was invited to their Mardi Gras parade party, I met with a bunch of people who were concerned about the negative impact of Mardi Gras beads on the environment.”

And luckily, Kato didn't have to brainstorm too hard when it came to thinking of a biodegradable material that would work for Mardi Gras beads. As he explained to Forbes, he discovered algae breaking down into oils one morning in a centrifuge in his lab. The night before, his student forgot to move the algae samples from the centrifuge to the freezer — a happy accident. When Kato saw what had happened to the algae, he realized that algae would be a great material for bioplastic.