Mardi Gras Beads from Microalgae

  Algae Europe December 2022

Part of the fun at the Mardi Gras parade involves throwing and catching plastic beads, which later results in a massive cleaning effort and the disposal of way too much plastic. Is that about to change?

Five hundred strands of biodegradable Mardi Gras beads — formulated at Louisiana State University (LSU) — were handed out along parade routes in New Orleans this year as concern over the tens of thousands of pounds of discarded plastic beads and their impact on the environment grows.

Mardi Gras algae beads

Each LSU biodegradable Mardi Gras bead has a protruding letter that together reads: “MADE WITH ALGAE LSU. Photo: Katherine Seghers, LSU

LSU Department of Biological Sciences Professor Naohiro Kato has been concerned about the problem the excess plastic from Mardi Gras poses for the environment for years; and as a biologist, he is creating solutions. “I am a big supporter of more sustainable Mardi Gras celebrations,” Dr. Kato said. “We can still celebrate, but we don’t need to throw plastic materials.”

Dr. Kato and his LSU students have developed a process to produce biodegradable plastic. He and his students grow microscopic algae, harvest it and process it into a powder that can be used to create multiple products including biodegradable Mardi Gras beads. After the fun is had, these celebratory throws are expected to biodegrade in soil in about one to two years. The biodegradable beaded necklaces were thrown in New Orleans by the Krewe of Freret’s float 1 on Feb. 19 and Krewe of Tucks’s float 19 A on Feb. 26.

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