ZomBeads Leads the Way to a ‘Greener’ Mardi Gras

If you live in New Orleans, you’ve probably felt post Mardi Gras blues at one time or another. Perhaps Ash Wednesday guilt is an inevitable side-effect of the historically Catholic holiday. In recent years, I’ve found myself feeling guilty, not just about my over indulgence in King Cake and Abita Mardi Gras Boch, but about the piles of unwanted plastic beads strewn around my house.  Inevitably, the beads hang around for a few weeks until I muster up the energy to recycle them, or (dare I admit) sneak them into the trash when my neighbors aren’t watching.

The movement to “green up”  Mardi Gras is gaining momentum, and ZomBeads is one of those businesses leading the charge. Founded in 2012 by the Louisiana Bucket BrigadeZomBeads works with local artists to create unique Mardi Gras throws that we can all be proud of. Project Lead, Rie Ma explains, “The idea came out of a love of New Orleans and a desire to see Mardi Gras become involved in the broader entrepreneurial effort that is sweeping the city, as well as larger commitments to being more local. More green. More sustainable.”

“People can still find the same joy in parades, but without the sense of excess and disposability.”

The ZomBeads crew has noticed a desire among locals to both throw and catch things that have more meaning. Far from wanting to overhaul Mardi Gras altogether, Rie says she sees Zombeads’ role as “supporting real improvements to a celebration that’s already great.”  And they are not alone. The Krewe of Freret recently made headlines when it announced that it was considering a ban on plastics. They drew attention to the fact that the majority of beads are made in China, and do little to benefit the NOLA economy.  Locals have lost interest in the cheap plastic beads, and they often end up in landfills.

By contrast, ZomBeads’ products aim to use environmentally friendly materials and provide a function that goes beyond Mardi Gras. Rie’s current favorites are keychains made from the off-cuts of NOLA’s iconic wooden shutters. “We use the scrap pieces of wood that would just be chipped or put in the trash somewhere. They can be printed with any design your heart desires. They’re sturdy – so won’t break if they hit the ground – and can be used the whole year round.” Also sure to be a stand out throw for 2014 is the “Reclaimed Rice Bag.” These colorful little zipper pouches, created by Industrial Designer and Tchoup Industries founder  Patti Dunn, are made of discarded rice bags from a processing plant in Crowley, LA.


ZomBeads recognizes that the pricing of their sustainably produced items can never compete with mass-produced beads, but they are comparable to the more specialty items that are so coveted by parade goers. Rie says their goal is to, “…build a successful local business while supporting overall change in the way other companies treat Mardi Gras throws. If enough crews take notice,  larger companies will have an incentive to be more responsible.”

This weekend is Mid Summer Mardi Gras. Thanks to ZomBeads, we’ll definitely be on the look out for “green” throws.

Rie Ma’s Tips for a more Sustainable Mardi Gras:

  1. If you ride, and must throw plastic beads, buy recycled beads from organizations like Arc of Greater NO.
  2. Talk to your favorite krewes and let them know that you’d like to see them focus on throwing better quality throws instead of just “the most” throws.
  3. Tell us (ZomBeads) about items that you think could be used to make recycled throws. Share feedback and ideas here.