BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – Bands, floats and plastic Mardi Gras beads bring joy to many people in Louisiana. But the tens of thousands of pounds of the waste left behind could be a problem.

“When you think of the quantity of plastic that’s thrown, I mean one big parade in New Orleans could throw over a million strands of beads,” said LSU Professor of Coast and Environment Mark Benfield.

Benfield said microplastics from the beads breaking down could harm wildlife.  

“So they got into the stormwater systems and then they start to break down into smaller fragments and you get a big flood event and they are going to get flushed into the drainage canals and then ultimately into the Mississippi River,” said Benfield.

Many krewes are already taking steps to lessen their environmental footprint.

“We want to entertain the crowd but at the same time it’s an environmental thing that’s helpful and when you can do something that is good for the environment, do something good for the public, and be a good neighbor,” said President and Captain of Krewe of Tucks Lloyd Frischhertz.

Frischhertz said while beads are part of their throws they have dozens of alternatives.

“We have hula dancing dashboards, we have Frisbees, we have plungers,” Frischhertz said.

Even one of their signature throws won’t last long in the elements.

“Our toilet paper is Marine biodegradable toilet paper. One good rain and they are out of the trees,” Frischhertz said.

Biodegradable beads are available but aren’t always the most affordable. For now, it seems plastic beads are here to stay. But, people are working on how to make them less harmful to the ecosystem.

“About three percent of the beads are recycled, they are usually collected and cleaned and sorted and then, thrown again, so that’s a great option,” said Benfield.