The Arc of Greater New Orleans wears many hats year round, but during Mardi Gras, the Arc’s primary objective is to get – those – beads! As one of its core Arc Enterprises, the bead-recycling program keeps tons of plastic beads out of landfills while supporting the Arc’s work in Jefferson, Orleans and St Bernard Parishes.
For decades, the Arc of Greater New Orleans has provided a large community of mentally disabled children and adults with the educational and employment opportunities that would not otherwise be available to them. Now serving over 1,000 individuals, the Arc’s programs range from early intervention and respite services for children and their families, to volunteering and employment for adults through the Arc Enterprises division. To those that Arc Enterprises serves, a typical day might be spent cleaning and repackaging Mardi Gras beads, or working and cooking in their Vintage Garden and Kitchen.
Throughout the year, the Arc collects unwanted Mardi Gras throws at drop-off locations around the Greater New Orleans area that are then cleaned, sorted, and packaged to be resold the following year. During Mardi Gras itself, the Arc has hit the streets with its “Catch & Release” trailer that asks parade goers to throw back their throws once the thrill of catching beads is over. (Sadly, the trailer is currently unable to roll in Orleans Parish parades.)
As a leader of the Greening Mardi Gras movement, the Arc works with local partner organizations to raise awareness in the months before and during Carnival of the environmental impacts of our beloved holiday. Through events like October’s Green Drinks and Verdi Gras’s conference on the “Economic and Environmental Impacts of Mardi Gras,” these organizations are mobilizing the community to do something more to offset the egregious waste created by Carnival.
LifeCity had the opportunity to ask Vance Lavesque, Controller for the ARC of Greater New Orleans, about their bead-recycling program:
Q1. What are some of your proudest moments as leaders of the greening Mardi Gras movement?
“There are two outcomes we are really most proud of. First, realizing that we have been able to employ over 100 people with an intellectual disability in a job, supporting our mission statement as an organization. Second, we have kept over 100,000 lbs. of plastic beads out of City landfills.” (That’s over 50 tons!)
Q2. What are some of the greatest opportunities and challenges the Arc faces during this time of year?
“For the 4th year in a row, we have sold out of the recycled beads and need to be able to collect more throughout this time of year to meet the demand we are seeing. Unfortunately, the City of New Orleans has a parish ordinance that prohibits anyone from throwing any object during a parade. Until the City changes the ordinance, our ‘Catch & Release’ trailer cannot roll in Orleans Parish.”
Q3. What partnerships have you formed in order to leverage sustainable impact as an organization?
“Over the years, Verdi Gras has been a tremendous partner, along with the New Orleans group of the Sierra Club and the Tulane Green Club. Last year, we appreciated LifeCity being the 1st funder of the ‘Catch & Release’ trailer, along with the Krewe of Little Rascals. We also receive support from the Director of the City Sanitation Department, Cynthia Lear, and we owe thanks to the SMG for letting the Arc help clean up the Superdome after the Endymion Ball for the first time.”
Q4. If you had a magic wand and there was one thing you could change that would make it easier for your organization to make a difference, what would that change be?
“The Mayor of New Orleans would demand a change to the ordinance which prohibits throwing any object during a parade so that the “Catch & Release” trailer could make a bigger splash than it currently does only rolling in Jefferson Parish. Of course, funding from the City would also be nice!!”
Q5. What kind of social and environmental impact do you hope to accomplish in the Green Games this year?
“The Arc hopes to continue growing the ‘green’ movement through the support of individuals who believe in our mission and message of Greening Mardi Gras”
Q6. Anything else you would like to tell our community of Green Card members and Green Businesses, such as Arc events over Mardi Gras weekend or new drop-off locations for after Carnival?
“Make sure to look out for the Arc’s “Catch & Release” trailer in Argus on Mardi Gras day! Also, we are always adding new locations where people can drop off beads so check our website and donate to our program.”
LifeCity thanks the Arc for embodying our mission of sustainability by improving our community’s environmental and social impacts through one awesome initiative.