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Students to Learn about Parade Plastics, Marine Debris

Everyone enjoys a parade. But what kind of impact does a parade have on the environment?

Louisiana Sea Grant (LSG) public engagement specialist Emily Maung-Douglass and education coordinator Jennifer Cook will begin working with Title 1 middle and high schools in January, providing insight on how discarded parade throws often end up downstream as marine debris. Title 1 schools are federally funded schools that help provide fair and equal opportunities to children. The project – titled Plastics on Parade: Cultivating Responsible Parade Culture in Louisiana – is being funded by a $74,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant.

“I moved to Louisiana from the mid-Atlantic region eight years ago and attended my first parade in the state soon after. I fell in love with Louisiana’s beautiful culture surrounding parades. The festive spirit, music, lights, costumes, pageantry, joie de vivre and interactive nature of it all really drew me in, especially at the smaller, neighborhood parades.” Maung-Douglass said. “But less appealing was the plastic debris that I would see littered on the roads and surrounding areas post-parade, sometimes making its way into and clogging storm drains.”

During Mardi Gras and other parades, plastic beads and other plastic toy prizes are often thrown from parade floats to spectators. Unwanted items are typically abandoned along the parade route, later moving through the environment to become plastic marine debris.

The LSG team will work with partners to develop four educational resources for students and their educators. They include:

  • A video following the journey of an abandoned parade throw from the parade route to the Gulf of Mexico to raise awareness of plastic in the natural environment.
  • A board game to help students make mental connections to the consequences of human behavior related to plastic parade throws on the natural environment and surrounding communities.
  • A social change campaign and design challenge to promote responsible parade behaviors. Students will develop a campaign to promote social awareness and change as it relates to parade culture and litter. Students will also design and create a prototype for a parade throw collection receptacle for use on a parade route, encouraging critical thinking on perceived barriers to participation in responsible parade culture.
  • An in-class discussion guide for educators to promote students’ critical thinking on the topic.

“This project provides students with the opportunity to examine and obtain a deeper understanding of how they impact Louisiana’s waterways. Students will be provided with an opportunity to think about how the simplest items, like Mardi Gras beads, can make a lasting impression on our environment. The goal is to increase awareness and to encourage students to become stewards to their ecosystem,” said Cook.