In temperate and tropical locales, storm drains are a vital bit of urban infrastructure. As a channel for rain water to drain from city streets, they play an important role in keeping the places most of us live habitable and our roads passable during wet weather. When storm drains get clogged with debris, the water they're meant to carry can't flow and things go sideways, fast. As such, most cities throw a lot of money at cleaning them – and the catch basins that feed into them – out, several times per year.
New Orleans? They've got storm drains. Given the city's history of catastrophic flooding, to say that keeping their waste water flowing would be an understatement. It's a tough job, made more difficult by the annual influx of drunken, horny tourists.
On January 28th, the Times-Picayune reported that in addition to the mud, leaves and garbage that New Orleans public works employees have to suck out of storm drains this year, they discovered something else: 46 tons of Marti Gras beads. For the sober uninitiated, the tradition of passing out strands and necklaces of Mardi Gras beads to boozy revelers started back in the 1800s when people parading as part of the annual celebration handed out the inexpensive mementos to onlookers. As anyone who's been to the five-day festival recently will tell you, just as many strands of the beads wind up on the ground as they do around necks. While the city spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to clean up after the days-long party, the beads still end up getting into places that you don't want them to – kind of like macro-sized glitter.
In an effort to keep so much discarded plastic out of the city's infrastructure and, more importantly, the environment, New Orleans' local government has asked that city residents pitch in by cleaning the catch basins in their neighborhood.