HAPPY MARDI GRAS! Today’s party in New Orleans is one of the biggest in the country, and, if you’ve ever paid any attention to it, you probably know about one of its most famous features: bead necklaces. The necklaces can be found pretty much anywhere during the Mardi Gras celebrations, and the idea is this: you give a woman a bead necklace in exchange for her flashing you.

It’s harmless (if a little skeezy) fun, for the most part, right?

Well, unfortunately, no. As it turns out, those beads are made in China, and they’re made under some pretty appalling conditions. In David Redmon’s 2005 documentary, Mardi Gras: Made in China he uncovers the process behind the making of these beads. They are largely made by teenage workers (mostly women, the owner explains, because women are more “passive,”) in a factory in Fuzhou, China. They are paid per bead, which adds up to around 10 to 12 cents per hour, and frequently work for up to 16 hours a day.

On top of this, the making of the beads involves the use of the chemical styrene, which is a carcinogen. Mardi Gras beads, then, may well actually kill the workers who make them.

Then there’s the problem of what happens with the beads: an estimated 25 million pounds of plastic beads arrive in New Orleans for Mardi Gras each year, and these beads are most likely to end up in landfills or in our oceans. Less than 2 percent of Mardi Gras beads end up being recycled, though there are efforts to try and increase that number.

None of this is to ruin the fun, but do these beads really need to be wasted at such a massive rate? And is the “beads for boobs” tradition one that really requires the beads? Are they actually that important of a currency? There’s no reason one of America’s most colorful cultural festivals can’t be sustainable, and there’s no reason fun can’t be had without the use of plastic beads that are harming those who are making them, and that are harming the world they’re cast into after being used for a single day.

So this Mardi Gras, consider skipping the beads.

You can watch the trailer (and rent) Mardi Gras: Made in China here.

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