New Orleans has a Gigantic Plastic Problem

I had an opportunity to visit the Big Easy for the French Quarter Festival, in which hundreds of bands play on stages scattered around the quarter.  If you are a music lover, THIS is the event.  The music is simply amazing.  To see a city built on music transform itself into a music onslaught was a great reminder of local identity and culture.  With the good comes the bad as they say.  The festival had over 750,000 attendees (twice the number as the previous year, 2015) and they have impact unless mitigated.

French Quarter Festival 2016
French Quarter Festival 2016

As great as the music was, the most shocking part of the festival came in the way of waste. As I embarked on Friday night down Bourbon Street, I was aghast at the amount of plastic used.  Every bar on the street issues beverages in plastic, because it is legal to walk on the street with alcohol and business owners don’t want broken glass in front of their establishments, so plastic is the vessel of choice.  There were cups scattered here and there and the crowded street was filled with patrons utilizing the oil derivative containers.  If we do some presumptive math we could assume that there were millions of plastic cups thrown away that weekend.  How can we stop this waste?

Astoundingly, the thought of reusing your plastic cup is discouraged and a new one is handed to you as if it is an extra piece of candy thrown in for customer service sake.  Where does the plastic go, when it is put to death early (by death I mean no longer used because plastic never dies)?  New Orleans recycles, but many of the businesses in the quarter do not.  The other disturbing thing is that New Orleans is located below sea level so flooding and rain water wash affect landfills.

Go for beer in a can versus a plastic cup
Plastic cups are littered among the grass

The plastic can be recycled, but recycling is based on market demand of repurposed plastic.  If there is a lack of demand then the plastic is put into landfills, where it stays forever or it is shipped to foreign countries like China and India.  As responsible tourism takes hold of our collective consciousness we will all see the problem with this scenario.  Compostable plastic is another option, however many landfills are not equipped to deal with compostable products.  Community composting is another piece to the sensible cycle of consumerism.

I absolutely love New Orleans; in fact I think it is one of America’s best cities, however, like most cities there is work to do.  A simple solution is to have bars and restaurants sell commemorative reusable stainless steel cups.  Patrons could carry them throughout the festival and keep them as a souvenir. If necessary, bars and restaurants could sanitize them before use as many people point out the sanitation properties of plastic.  Most of these individuals are unaware of the health issues associated with using plastic.

I do not want to take anything away from the festival as I think it is a great cultural gift to offer outsiders, but a reverence to the environment should be maintained.  With your help we can start the demand chain for sensible change.

2 thoughts on “New Orleans has a Gigantic Plastic Problem

  1. Couldn’t agree more. I’ve just moved here from London and am horrified by the unnecessary waste. I can’t just do nothing but I want to come in at the right place. Any info on initiatives in the city you are aware of then I am all ears! Continuing to research (hence finding your post). Thanks, Petra

  2. Couldn’t agree more – it’s beyond apocalyptic here on the waste front. If there are amy initiatives you know of here that I could get involved with then I am all ears – continuing on with the online research in the mean time, can’t just stand by any more…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.