BioBeads Hopes to Make Greener Strands in New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS – Slidell native and bead-lover Marcus Ciko first dreamed up the idea of making biodegradable Mardi Gras beads 20 years ago. It wasn’t until a decade later that he began formally researching and developing the idea. Now, with the rest of the world catching up to his vision of a greener Mardi Gras, Ciko has finally hit on what he thinks is the winning chemical formula for beads that will be much more friendly to the environment.
He said they are 100% biodegradable, 100% recyclable and 100% non‐toxic. They’re designed to biodegrade within five years and they don’t contain any toxic chemicals or create microplastics.
In partnership with his sister Lisa Ponti, Ciko worked with companies in seven different states last year to produce prototypes of his new beads. Throughout the process, he had to spend a lot of time explaining Carnival to the uninitiated.
“I had to tell them the intricacies of exactly what we wanted,” he said. “The size, the length, the colors … and of course the performance of the biodegradability. But we eventually got everybody on board.”
Now Ciko and Ponti – working as BioBeads LLC – are in the midst of a campaign to secure funding to create a factory in the New Orleans area and begin production by 2021. They believe they can compete with the prices of traditional imported beads while reducing the negative impact Mardi Gras and similar events have on the environment.
“We’re going to make it competitive,” said Ciko. “We’re going to try to match or beat China’s price, which sounds impossible, but it’s a combination of factors that make something like that possible. We’re using all different materials; we’re not shipping it from China. The Trump tariffs of 10 percent on the beads is actually helping us compete.
“Some other people are working on biodegradable beads but are saying it will be many times the cost. One of our main [goals] was to make sure that it’s going to be as close to the current price as possible. Because if krewe riders are paying a thousand a year for throws they don’t want to pay three, five or ten thousand a year for the same amount of throws just to be environmentally conscious.”
Ciko’s quest, which may have seemed quixotic a few years ago, is suddenly very much in tune with the zeitgeist.
“Even back in 2017, I sat down with some possible investors and then we talked to those same people again in 2019 and he mentioned then that he thought I was too early in 2017 and the public just wasn’t ready for it yet and it hadn’t quite hit critical mass yet like it has now,” said Ciko. “There’s this huge social movement of people tired of the beads coming from China full of toxic materials and they’re winding up in the sewers for thousands of years. Some people are saying that the city is flooding more because the beads are in the catch basins and they can’t get rid of them without spending a lot of money. There’s a lot of different issues that people have with beads at this point and I wanted to be sure when we crafted this product that it solves all the problems.”
So now Ciko’s decades-long quest comes down to funding.
“Our next step is getting funding for us to create a factory in New Orleans” said Ponti. “We’re looking at the potential for some existing factory to be able to produce. There’s definitely an interest in the product no question. The challenge is coming up with the resources to buy the machinery and get the process started. Once we get that done, there’s definitely a demand for the beads and I think it’ll be a slam dunk basically.”