'Catch and Release' trailer brings instant Mardi Gras bead recycling

It’s like a Carnival float in reverse. Arc Enterprises’ new “Catch and Release” float doesn’t throw beads and baubles to parade-goers: The decorated trailer provides a place for revelers to pitch their surplus beads and baubles at the end of the parade.

11lgarc2848.jpgSave up your throws and pitch them into Arc Enterprises' "Catch and Release' float, which will follow the Krewe of Alla parade on Sunday, Feb. 12 on the West Bank and the Krewe of Morpheus parade on Friday, Feb. 17 in New Orleans.

The Arc trailer, festooned with bull’s-eyes and a clown-face target, made its debut Feb. 5 at the tail-end of the Little Rascals parade in Metairie, where revelers pelted it with about 1,000 pounds of throws. That’s 1,000 pounds of plastic that won’t end up stashed in attics or dumped into the trash, said Margie Perez, Arc Enterprises recycling coordinator.

Instead, the throws end up at the Arc Enterprises headquarters on Labarre Road in Metairie, where they are resold to float riders.

The trailer, which will also follow the Alla and Morpheus parades this year, is one of two new Carnival recycling efforts that Arc Enterprises is participating in this season.

The other is a pilot parade-route recycling project spearheaded by VerdiGras, a nonprofit organization dedicated to, as the name suggests, the greening of Carnival.

This year, VerdiGras and Arc are collaborating to put recycling bins along a six-block stretch of St. Charles Avenue from Amelia to Eighth streets during the Krewe of Pontchartrain parade Sat, Feb. 11. The parade, which rolls at 2 p.m., follows the traditional Uptown route.

Arc’s purple and yellow bins, which were donated by the Thomas and Farr Insurance Agency and the New Orleans Hash House Harriers running club, will collect throws, while VerdiGras bins, donated by Phoenix Recycling, will collect paper, plastic and aluminum.

Volunteers will man the bins and sort the beads and other refuse, said Holly Groh, a volunteer with VerdiGras, which hopes the project will also raise awareness.

“Our motto is: It’s about the show and not the throw,” Groh said. “We don’t have to have trash to have a great party.”

11lgarc2811.jpgRecycling coordinator Margie Perez is surrounded by the purple and yellow bead recycling bins that will be on St. Charles Avenue, from Amelia to Eighth streets, during the Krewe of Pontchartrain parade today.

VerdiGras has the city’s permission for its Carnival work. Groh says VerdiGras also hosts an annual green ball, featuring all local and sustainable foods, to benefit Arc, St. Michael’s Special School, and the Musicians Assistance Foundation.

“We’re hoping this inspires other people and gets them to think about what’s possible,” Groh said.

The “Catch and Release” trailer and purple bins tap into the community’s growing ecological consciousness as well as the impulse to help others, Perez said.

Arc Enterprises, at 925 S. Labarre Road in Metairie, is a branch of the nonprofit Arc of Greater New Orleans; it provides intellectually disabled citizens with jobs such as landscape maintenance, janitorial services as well as its popular Vintage Garden, which also markets its own vegetable soups.

Last year, Arc Enterprises employees and volunteers sorted 100,000 pounds of beads that were donated by school bead drives, collected in bead recycling bins stationed at grocery stores, and donated by private citizens.

“People are aware that we employ people with disabilities; putting money in their pockets,” said Perez, who also is a jazz and blues singer.

Each Carnival, the Arc Enterprises warehouse is stacked with tons of beads, sorted by length, color and krewe and stored in mesh crawfish sacks. One area is piled with sacks of glinting green beads, ready for the St. Patrick’s Day rush. Float riders who buy their beads from Arc Enterprises can save plenty over the cost of freshly manufactured imported throws, Perez said, but she focuses more on the altruism.

“People are becoming more aware of how wasteful Mardi Gras can be,” she said. Though no one knows exactly the quantity of imported throws that are tossed during Carnival, Perez said that one estimate is 22 million pounds.

“That’s a lot of plastic that’s not going to break down in our lifetime,” she said.

Vance Levesque, Arc’s controller/sustainability officer, estimates that only 2 percents of throws are recycled.

The “Catch and Release” trailer was his idea. He suggested converting a landscaping equipment trailer into the bead catcher. Arc used $1,000 won in an ecological idea contest conducted by LifeCity, a Louisiana organization that supports sustainable business development, to refit the trailer.

The impetus to go green is part of what brought Beth Koehler and Patrick King to Arc on Wednesday. They have begun a small Carnival celebration in their hometown of Carbondale, Ill., and said they chose to buy used beads for green reasons and because they believed in Arc’s mission, but also because recycled beads would bring more “authenticity” to their neighborhood Mardi Gras.

They echoed the thoughts of Tammy Rice, who has patronized Arc’s bead shop for three years: “Why buy new when you can buy used or previously loved beads.”

'Catch and Release' trailer allows instant Mardi Gras bead recycling Get a video preview of Arc Enterprises' new Mardi Gras 'Catch and Release' bead recycling trailer, designed to follow Carnival parades so parade-goers can instantly throw back their unwanted beads.