By Jesse Baum
Parade throws, one the biggest draws of the Carnival season, have become one of its biggest sources of controversy, with a growing push to move Mardi Gras away from the waste and excess symbolized by the all the plastic beads filling our streets and catch basins after every parade.
An Urban Conservancy conference held at the historic Carver Theater on Oct. 18 was titled “The Future of Mardi Gras.” Its focus was on sustainability and culture; panelists and environmental advocates discussed how to return the focus to the local artistry that creates Mardi Gras’ most memorable floats, throws and costumes
The audience had gathered to hear about the Carnival’s future—but the panel discussion began with the past.
According to New Orleans historian John Magill, a panelist at the event, early Mardi Gras parades did not have throws. The tradition, Magill explained, began with trinkets that were dispensed by a Santa Claus who walked through the crowd—as Mardi Gras was a post-Christmas holiday, rather than a pre-Easter Holiday. A local toy store provided the parcels.
Fast-forward to today—Mardi Gras is a bacchanalian extravaganza that generates 900 tons of waste each year. Last year the figure was 12,000 tons, and the city made national news when 93,000 pounds of beads were pulled from catch basins along a five-block stretch of St. Charles avenue.