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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

It's Mardi Gras time in Louisiana this weekend, and that means marching bands, colorful floats and parade-goers who scream throw me something, mister. That something that the crowd wants is beads. Yeah, beads. The goal of any Mardi Gras parade is to catch as many as possible. But what happens to all the beads when the festival's over? Elizabeth Eads of member station WRKF reports.

ELIZABETH EADS, BYLINE: At a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, when you hear police sirens and see street sweepers, you know the parade is over.

(SOUNDBITE OF STREET SWEEPERS)

EADS: After the revelry, people often have so many beads around their necks they can barely turn their heads. The problem is that when it's over, well, you're left with a bunch of plastic beads. Everyone in Louisiana has their own way of coping with this problem.

RIYAH SCOTT: So, I say I'm going to put them in the attic.

ALLISON FAUCHEUX: I usually give them to friends who, like, are usually, like, in parades or whatever.

ZACHARY HAND: Throw them away.

GARY HILL: We actually...

KAREN HILL: Recycle them.

HILL: ...recycle them.

EADS: That's Riyah Scott, Allison Faucheux, Zachary Hand, Gary and Karen Hill after a recent parade. Mardi Gras beads use metallic paint and can't be melted down. So, one local organization has found a niche - it recycles and resells beads. Last year, the ARC in New Orleans recycled 120,000 pounds of them.

MARGIE PEREZ: Let's do those for the price of the loose ones, and you've got, what, nine? Instead of 35, we'll do them for the 30.

EADS: That's ARC's recycling coordinator, Margie Perez, in the back of a nearly-empty warehouse. She's completing a sale.

PEREZ: We've sorted almost all of the beads that we've gotten donated. And so we have one box left. Like, if you were to come here in, say, July, we would have rows and rows of boxes. Yeah. I think at the height last year, we had 60 thousand-pound boxes.

EADS: Since their supply is low, Perez is on a hunt. The plan is to walk behind the parade of Feret in New Orleans and encourage people to recycle their beads at the moment when their value drops. She's in a van with 14 empty purple bins along the parade route. Forty Tulane University students in need of community service credits are assigned a bin.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Recycle the beads that you don't want. Recycle the beads.

EADS: Once the beads are collected...

(SOUNDBITE OF BEADS SPILLING OUT)

EADS: ...it's back to ARC's warehouse, where they will be hand-sorted. Then they'll be resold at the average price of a dollar per pound to people like Cole Hernandez and Joseph Frost who will throw them at later parades.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Eight forty-three.

COLE HERNANDEZ: A lot cheaper, yeah.

JOSEPH FROST: If we'd have gotten our stuff through Orpheus, it probably would've been about two grand for all those beads.

HERNANDEZ: Yeah. No joke.

EADS: And it's back to the parades for the beads.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EADS: For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Eads.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LYDEN: This is NPR News.

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