Grounds Krewe and ArcGNO Package Eco-Friendly and Consumable Throws
METAIRIE – Typically, when parade-goers eagerly yell at float riders to throw them something, what they get in return are beads, balls, cups, or other krewe specialty throws. This year, however, thanks to two local nonprofits – Grounds Krewe and Arc of Greater New Orleans (ArcGNO) – what you may catch are items you can take home and eat.
Grounds Krewe launched in 2017 to promote waste prevention, recycling and sustainable products for New Orleans special events and coordinates “on the route” recycling efforts for ArcGNO. This year, the group is offering parade riders a selection of eco-friendly throws as well as consumable options that highlight New Orleans culture: red beans, jambalaya mix and ground coffee. The throws are the brainchild of Grounds Krewe founder Brett Davis, a New Orleans native and lifelong environmentalist.
“As a kid, I grew up near the parade route scrambling for each snap-on bead, but as time passed and more stuff got thrown, I couldn’t help but notice the amount of waste left on city streets after each parade. It’s an environmental problem, a health hazard and detrimental to the safety of our city due to clogged storm drains,” Davis says. He notes that part of his vision when developing Grounds Krewe was to find a way to make Mardi Gras more eco-friendly beyond just recycling and, “That’s when the idea came to mind to find throws that people will use rather than leave on the street. Nothing says ‘New Orleans’ more than a pot of red beans or jambalaya, and who doesn’t like a good, strong cup of coffee?”
Davis took his vision to Jambalaya Girl, Camellia Brand and New Orleans Roast, who worked with him to develop heat-sealed, 4-ounce mini-packets of each product without any commercial labeling, a requirement for Mardi Gras throws. With the help of ArcGNO recycle team members, the packets get a “Made in Louisiana” sticker applied and are then stuffed into biodegradable jute baggies printed with generic Mardi Gras designs.
ArcGNO is a 67-year-old agency that supports children and adults with Down syndrome, autism, or some other intellectual disability or delay (IDD). Part of its mission is to provide wage-earning employment to those with IDD who wish to work, and one of ArcGNO’s largest social enterprises is the Mardi Gras Recycle Center, which collected more than 170 tons of recycled Mardi Gras throws last year. It’s 80 full-time and part-time employees work year-round, along with thousands of volunteers, sorting, repackaging and selling, through its retail store, all recycled Mardi Gras throws.
“Brett came to us to see if we could help package his new items, and we jumped at the idea,” notes Sherrana McGee, assistant manager of the ArcGNO Recycling Center. As McGee explains, “We set up a mini assembly line where we place stickers on all the packets, and then those are handed off another person who places the throw in its own small, biodegradable jute fiber sack and ties it up. From there, some of the product goes into our store, while others are bagged and taken to fulfill online orders. Our team is extremely motivated and excited about this new partnership as sales help fund our joint programs for recycling.”
This partnership is just one of many ArcGNO has established over the past few years to promote a more environmental-friendly Mardi Gras. This year, ArcGNO formalized contracts with three krewes to provide recycled throws. It is also building a new float that will follow some Jefferson Parish parades so people can easily recycle along the parade route, and it has also partnered with Shell, which produced a television spot promoting the agency’s recycling effort. In addition, ArcGNO is working with Grounds Krewe in Orleans Parish to recycle along three parade routes during Carnival 2020. As for Grounds Krewe, not only does it offer consumable throws, but riders can also find 100% recycled plastics cups, bamboo toothbrushes and wooden yo-yos among the several eco-friendly options to throw this year.
“I’ve received tremendous support in my effort to make Mardi Gras greener,” comments Davis. “It’s going to take everyone working together to change how we approach Carnival when it comes to waste. I think this year, people are going to see just how much we can do when we throw more environmentally-friendly items and then recycle other products to keep them out of our drains and landfills.”
Some of that support has come from Entergy’s Environmental Initiative Fund, which awarded Grounds Krewe a grant to launch an online Sustainable Throw Catalog. The throws offer several benefits such as feeding people, using renewable, biodegradable packaging, promoting Louisiana culture and business, and best of all, creating jobs for the people with intellectual disabilities. “Supporting programs that help ensure the sustainability of an event like Mardi Gras, a celebration that is part of the city’s fabric, unique culture and appeal, fits well with our commitment to protecting the environment and our mission to add sustainable value to our communities,” comments Kelli Dowell, Entergy’s director of environmental policy. As she further notes, “We appreciate the leadership of Grounds Krewe and look forward to spreading the word about this important and inventive initiative along the parade route.”