Posted at 12:04 PM ET, 02/16/2012

Mardi Gras is coming — along with a mountain of mess

“You may talk French or talk dirty, and you may dance on the bare back of a Shetland mule named Jolie Blonde, up high and daring in your Mardi Gras mask and bright satin gown, a fifth of Old Crow swishing about in your hip pocket, but unless it burns truly in your heart that you’re a blessed savage on this Fat Tuesday, then, brother, you ain’t a Coonass.”

That’s how Mardi Gras was in 1984, according to Washington Post Style writer John Ed Bradley. This is how Mardi Gras is now:


Mardi Gras reveler Mike Turpin reacts as a front loader collects beads and other debris left on Bourbon Street in New Orleans last year. (Patrick Semansky - AP)

New Orleans’ Mardi Gras orgies parades these days generate about 25 million pounds of trash, according to a grass-roots environmental group called Verdi Gras, including a deluge of cups, balls, moonpies, beer cans, masks, condoms and Chinese-made petroleum-based beads. So many beads.

After the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina claimed whole parts of the city and the BP oil spill ruined the livelihoods of local fishermen, New Orleans “has never seemed more environmentally fragile,” the Los Angeles Times writes.

And yet it’s as if the party never stopped.

“Nothing had changed,” Verdi Gras’ Holly Groh, whose house was wiped out by Katrina, told the Times. “We were astonished, and just kind of dumbfounded.”

The new environmental campaign of which Groh is a part is seeking to stop the excess and waste of Mardi Gras. But the task confronting the group is nearly Sisyphean in scope. Last year, New Orleans topped a Travel + Leisure list of America’s dirtiest cities, almost exclusively because of the Mardi Gras parade. During the clean-up, a single dumpster is often filled up in minutes. Cleaners each year are forced to deploy new and heavier equipment, such as custom-built pressure washers or a giant Earthmover.

But Kirk Groh, Holly’s husband and a fellow campaigner, is sure the festival can go back to what it once was — even if it doesn’t include a Shetland mule.

“Mardi Gras has been going on for 150 years, and the extent of plastic and waste is a relatively new phenomenon,” he told a local ABC affiliate. “So it isn’t necessarily tradition that we trash the city to enjoy it.”

By  |  12:04 PM ET, 02/16/2012

Tags:  National, New Orleans, Mardi Gras, environment

 
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