Who doesn't love Mardi Gras beads?! We cheer for them, count them, collect them, treasure our best finds... and then throw the rest away.
Tens of thousands of pounds of plastic Mardi Gras beads enter the environment every year. After the parades, most of the discarded beads end up in streets, drains, and landfills. But LSU biologist Naohiro Kato is passionate about developing an innovative way to solve this problem by creating Mardi Gras beads... that can biodegrade! And the coolest thing about Naohiro's biodegradable Mardi Gras beads is that they were originally created from algae biomass after one of his students "partied too hard" and forgot to end a lab experiment spinning cycle on time... resulting in a gooey, oily mess that gave Naohiro's a brilliant idea.
Algae naturally accumulate oil inside of their cells, making leftover products processed from microalgae farming (nutraceutical or health food supplement companies can use microalgae to market their products vegetarian or vegan) a potential untapped source of "green" Mardi Gras beads! Naohiro has found a way to harden oily microalgae into beads that are tough enough to withstand a drop from an 8-story building... or a throw from a large Mardi Gras float!
We went into Naohiro's lab to learn more about this Mardi Gras beads. Enjoy the following 10 Things You Didn't Know about Biodegradable Mardi Gras Beads!
Mardi Gras Bead Fun Facts, by Dr. Naohiro Kato
1. A single thread of petroleum-based Mardi Gras beads costs around 5 cents each.
2. Mardi Gras krewes and individual members spend over $12 million on Mardi Gras beads annually.
3. A whopping 93,000 pounds of Mardi Gras beads have clogged up catch-basins of New Orleans. The city has spent over $7 million on Mardi Gras bead clean-up.
4. Biodegradable Mardi Gras beads can be produced right now with technology and materials currently available, but it would cost 3 - 10 times more than to produce petroleum-based Mardi Gras beads. Would you pay more for biodegradable Mardi Gras beads?
5. Microalgae can produce both bioplastic and nutraceutical ingredients simultaneously within a single cell.
6. An undergraduate student in my lab accidentally discovered the basic ingredients of biodegradable Mardi Gras beads.
7. Microalgae biomass (organic material that comes from these organisms) can be molded into Mardi Gras beads directly. This biomass can help Mardi Gras beads made of both biomass and traditional plastic products break down faster than all-plastic beads.
8. Microalgae cultured in a football-field-sized pond (1.32 acres) can produce $30M worth of nutraceuticals and 93,000 pounds of biodegradable Mardi Gras beads annually.
9. It takes three weeks for microalgae to grow fully in the football-field-sized pond.
10. Lousiana has 450,000 acres of rice paddy fields and 220,000 acres of aquaculture fields.
Bonus Fun Fact! Louisiana is one of the best places to cultivate microalgae in the U.S.!