As Mardi Gras floats return to sheds and backyards, many people are left with useless piles of beads.
There are now more options than ever before for environmentally conscious Mardi Gras revelers to recycle their beads, thanks to organizations like LARC and The Arc of Acadiana, which are working to recycle abandoned beads to be thrown again next year.
These bead repurposing programs not only lessen the demand for new beads, but the nonprofit agencies employ adults with developmental disabilities, preparing them for the job market.
“Our clients have developmental and intellectual disabilities that a job out in the community may not be a perfect fit for them,” LARC Job Development Manager Carthy Guillet said. “This enables them to have work, have a paycheck and be self-sufficient.”
Working out of the Beads N More shop on the campus of Acadian Village, some 240 LARC clients wash, untangle, repair, sort and package the beads the agency receives.
Seven tables manned by a dozen clients at a time work in an assembly-line fashion. First, the beads are washed and then separated by size. The beads are then stapled together in dozens. The banded sets are then bagged in groups of six for resale.
The workers are assigned to their tables according to their strong points, Guillet said.
“Some of them can’t count, so we use numbered containers,” she explained. “Some of them don’t have the dexterity to use the stapler, so we have them at different stations. We have it broken down to each task.”
The clients are paid through the programs they participate in, and how much they are paid depends on how well they perform.
“The more beads the produce, the bigger their paycheck,” Guillet said.
Being a nonprofit, all sales by Beads N More go directly back to LARC and paying the workers.
From custodial and food service work in area hospitals to recycling gumbo cups and spoons and recycling Valentine’s Day cards, the agency works to help people with mental and physical disabilities join the workforce.
After the LARC clients complete the recycling process, the beads are wheeled into a warehouse, where the boxes and boxes and boxes of beads wait to be thrown next Carnival season.
Orders come in year-round, and from as far as Massachusetts, where a mayor ordered beads for a Mardi Gras celebration in his city.
“How she found out about us, we don’t know,” Guillet said. “But she did. The word is getting out.”
Guillet said LARC has been aiming to be the main supplier for Mardi Gras beads.
“We’ve been really trying to get in touch with the krewes and tell them that we can take their orders and supply them,” she said. “It is a lot less expensive. We have the best prices in town.”
LARC sold more than 500,000 beads last year, Guillet said. These beads come from private donors, as well as krewes off-loading their own bead hauls.
“Last year, we didn’t have a good year because the some of the parades canceled and it was so cold,” she said. “We didn’t have the amount of recycled beads we usually had.”
Beads can be donated at any Goodwill location or at the Beads N More store next to Acadian Village.