Krewe of Boo ditches beads in favor of sustainable, local parade trinkets

When the Krewe of Boo stampedes through the French Quarter and Warehouse District on Saturday, the ghoulish-theme parade won’t be showering revelers with strands of pearls or handfuls of plastic cups.

Instead, riders on the 13-float parade will buck typical parade throws for miniature voodoo dolls, packets of PJs coffee and a slew of other recycled and locally produced creations intended to usher in a more environmentally sustainable form of carnival.

“I wasn’t really interested in beads,” said Brian Kern, captain of Krewe of Boo and director of sales at Mardi Gras World.

“I’d rather throws that say more about us as a city.”

Despite the fact that his family is in the bead business, Brian Kern began to grow tired of the endless shower of plastic beads that rained down each year and were often discarded in the street.

His desire to create a greener parade experience lead him to join with Katrina Brees, a costume designer, parade organizer and founder of I Heart Louisiana, a nonprofit that aims to make Mari Gras more sustainable.

“Ultimately, Mardi Gras should be a contest of who has the best creations,” Brees said.

“We’ve convinced ourselves that the Mardi Gras bead is New Orleans. We’ve fooled ourselves into thinking that this represents our city.”

Brees’ organization is helping source the $200,000 of throws that the parade will use.

Local food products such as Aunt Sally’s pralines, Chee Wees from Elmer Foods and Zydeco sweet potato nutritional bars will be thrown alongside voodoo doll pins and other wares made by local artists.

Brees’ group also is providing bags of recycled trinkets from Mardi Gras past to riders in Boo.

She and a group of her friends sifted through a burial ground of giant plastic cigars and oversized toothbrushes on a recent afternoon in a warehouse at Arc, an organization that recycles Mardi Gras throws as a fundraising tool for its work on behalf of with intellectual disabilities.

Shannon Rockefeller, one of the volunteers, showed off the 235 bags of trinkets the group had assembled so far.

A New Orleans native, he said he was motivated to work toward a more ecologically friendly Mardi Gras after watching the documentary “Mardi Gras Made in China,” which chronicles the journey of Mardi Gras beads from Chinese factories to the streets of New Orleans.

“I jus want to do anything I can to green it up,” he said.

Margie Perez, who heads the recycling program at Arc, said her group sold 120,000 pounds of recycled beads in 2013 and will likely surpass that number this year.

But the group still has huge piles of broken and undesirable beads that linger in its warehouse.

Brees said that in addition to being more environmentally friendly, locally produced throws can also inject cash into the local art scene.

“When I go see a parade it offends me as an artist to see the amount of things that get thrown, especially when I think about all of my artist friends who don’t have money to pay rent and have cars in the shop. This is $50 million right here,” she said.