the eco cajun mardi gras checklist

It's Party Gras time here in South Louisiana – make sure you are prepared to have a fun and sustainable holiday!

  • Make as little waste as possible. If you can, ride your bike or walk to your spot on the parade route. You'll cut down on extra gas usage, and you won't need to worry about finding a legitimate parking spot.
  • Bring reusable bags or even a cardboard box to hold all of your catches. Use something that can be recycled later and something that's sturdy enough to hold pounds of beads. When we ride bikes to the parades, my bike basket becomes the de facto bead holder. 
    • (Side tip: Too many beads in your bike basket does make for a tougher trip home! Watch the turns. Also, make sure you CAN ride home…you know what I mean! You can still get a DUI on a bicycle, or you can find yourself in some bushes.)
  • Do not bring glass bottles out to the parade. It's illegal, and if that glass becomes litter, it's dangerous for car tires and feet. Try to skip the styrofoam daiquiri cups. Many places typically oblige if you bring your own cup in, so don't be afraid to whip out your Bubba Keg or Klean Kanteen. Or pour your beer/drink into your mug before you depart. Insulated reusable mugs and cups keep your drinks colder for much longer anyway. If you still prefer to go for something disposable, get drinks in aluminum cans, and recycle the cans!
    • Drink plenty of water too! There's no time for hangovers.
  • Bring an extra bag to keep your trash and/or recyclables in. The first part of reducing litter is not creating litter in the first place. Be responsible for what you haul to the parade. If you brought it, you make sure it leaves, whether you throw it away or take it home to recycle. But please consider recycling everything you can instead of just throwing it all away! 
  • Pick up any extra beads around you and put them in your bag. All beads, including broken ones, can be donated and recycled for cleaning and repair.
  • Dress for the occasion. Mardi Gras is a marathon; not a sprint. Keep the nicer clothes (and seriously, no heels or wedges) at home and wear something comfortable. If it's cold, and it probably will be on Tuesday, wear a lightweight jacket or sweater. Again, beads are heavy. If you like to wear and show off your catches, you're gonna get weighed down fast!
  • If it's rainy, leave the umbrellas at home. First, you'll have enough stuff to keep track of. Second, they're a pain in the ass. Third, if you turn it upside down and use it as a bead catcher, you're an asshole to everyone around you. Bring a rain jacket and call it a day. You'll also keep your arms free to catch beads!
  • Have your smartphone help you out. Download the Mardi Gras 2014 app for iPhones and Androids (for Lafayette Mardi Gras) and keep up with the band schedule at the fair, and be able to follow the float progression in real-time (my new favorite thing about Mardi Gras!). There is also a Twitter account, @FloatFinders, that live tweets the location of the parades. The Twitter updates came in very handy for last week's Krewe of Rio Parade.
    • New Orleans: You can download WWL's parade tracker app here.
  • Check your garbage collection schedule. On Mardi Gras day, there is no trash or recycling pickup for Allied Waste and Recycling Foundation customers. Anyone with regular pickup on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday will be one day behind next week. 
  • In general, be safe and careful. Don't drink and drive, don't overdo it before Mardi Gras day (remember: marathon, not a sprint), don't litter, watch out for children, and watch your face when they're throwing beads. No one needs a broken nose – it's a miracle I have not had a broken nose or black eye yet. Be careful with fingertips too, especially if it's colder out. Those beads are stingers. 
I'll be sharing lots of photos over on Instagram, including what I'm sure will be many Litterati snaps, and you can also follow the fun on Twitter and Facebook (oh, hey, by the way, Eco Cajun is on Facebook)!


don't trash mardi gras!

Mardi Gras season is back! The king cake, the parades, the beads, and the booze. And don't forget the trash!

When you go to parades, bring a bag or box to hold your loot. Take all the beads that land around you or are broken too, because all the beads you catch can be saved for future years. Louisiana has different organizations who take the beads and clean, repair and package them to be sold again.

  • Lafayette: Goodwill. They partner with LARC to accept donated beads on the organization's behalf.
  • Lafayette: LARC. Their donations are accepted at any Goodwill or at the LARC office on New Hope Road (near Acadian Village).
  • New Orleans: Arc of Greater New Orleans accepts beads at various locations.
  • New Orleans: Last year, the New Orleans public library branches accepted beads for recycling. Some branches this year are accepting beads; check the ArcGNO website for information on which branches.
  • Shannon Hurst Lane has some Mardi Gras recycling tips as well.
  • Verdi Gras is a new New Orleans organization focused on making Mardi Gras greener. They have a recycling program this year that involves taking beads, plastic and cans off the parade route and sorting it for recycling or donating to ARC.

And whatever you do for Mardi Gras, make sure you don't leave behind any trash. Use as much reusable as you can instead of styrofoam or plastic. Throw your trash away and recycle what can be, and pick up anything you dropped.

Everything helps, especially when this is the kind of mess left behind after one parade! Unfortunately, so many plastic bags are thrown over the floats and into the road, because the packaged beads are left in plastic bags instead of being set up to be thrown.

So while we can't make Mardi Gras completely sustainable yet, we can each do a small part to make an impact on the amount of trash left behind once the floats have passed.


happy valentine's day from eco cajun!

I hope you all have a great Valentine's Day! If you're not in a relationship, be your own valentine and treat yo-self tonight!


reenvisioning natural resources

PlanLafayette week is wrapping up here in town, and with the release of the draft comprehensive plan, it's a big week for our future. There are four overarching themes of the plan, one of which is Reenvisioning Natural Resources. Last week, PlanLafayette put on a breakfast to discuss natural resources and how better planning makes for a better city. And gave out stickers with cute leaves on them!

Now, I've had mixed feelings on environmentalism, recycling and natural resources in the realm of Lafayette. It's just not seen as an important priority by the majority of the residents, and it's evident. We have a recycling company who is mediocre at best. Recycling bins are not emptied on schedule. There aren't many options for recycling; if you live outside the city limits, you're SOL and you'll just have to trash everything if you aren't willing to drive into a seedy part of town to dump your plastic, paper, glass and aluminum. Even if you live inside the city limits, but aren't in a single-family household, you have to go out of your way to recycle. Many times the solution to a problem is "fix it now", without thinking of the best or most responsible way to fix something that will be a better long-term solution.

But I was very interested in attending this breakfast, hearing what other like-minded people think, and hearing what may be in store for Lafayette's future. The morning started with a presentation by LEED-accredited, New Orleans-based landscape architect Dana Brown. She discussed green infrastructure and natural hydrology versus traditional drainage. This is something I didn't learn until I was probably in college, but not everywhere has coulees - cement-lined creeks, basically. However, Lafayette has them everywhere, to collect and funnel rainwater to a specific point, instead of letting it run its natural course. Coulees turn water into runoff, and cause different problems at different points in the system. Natural hydrology retains trees and keeps natural banks, and allows rain to fall and drain off naturally. Coulees strip rainwater of the power to filter pollutants and recharge groundwater. Dana made the point that it's actually more expensive to conduct a coulee system, because essentially you are paying to move water around. It's cheaper to address it where it falls. Limiting the amount of paved surface also allows rainwater to fall and drain naturally.

As a landscape architect, Dana showed examples of natural hydrology versus traditional drainage and showed how cities can still function and not flood while eliminating the coulees. One example she showed was a recent upgrade at the Baton Rouge airport that took out a coulee and made a natural creek. She also showed examples of how pervious concrete is a better alternative to standard concrete, because it's more porous and allows water to seep through to the ground, while still maintaining structure and integrity.

After Dana's presentation, Greg Manuel, Dave Welch and Jerry Vascou, all leaders in the Lafayette business community, spoke about how they want to see Lafayette become greener. One great point that Greg made, and that everyone agreed with, is that we need small victories. A miracle doesn't have to happen overnight to make progress, but small victories help get us closer to the goal of being greener. He mentioned that recycling, especially, is an issue of civic pride. And he mentioned that a lot can be accomplished without needing to spend a lot of money. Jerry added that someone's first impression of our city is important. Do we want to be considered ugly? That could deter someone from wanting to transfer here over somewhere else.

Some ideas floated around about how to improve Lafayette's image, from painting utility boxes to look more like art, to enforcing litter ordinances.

An idea I thought of about enforcing litter ordinances comes from the fact that Louisiana once had a litter hotline. The same principle could be updated today to be a number you text to report someone littering, or a Twitter account manned by the public works department that would accept reports and take action.

One idea that was discussed a lot is how to gain traction in city-wide recycling. Many people feel disconnected from the idea of recycling. Many of the people attending agreed that education at a young age is extremely important in teaching people about recycling. I know that in my own education and upbringing, recycling was always included. My parents recycled and taught me the proper way to fill the bins. In school we learned small actions, such as cutting six-pack rings, from 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the World. And Earth911 recently featured tips on how to get children to recycle.

One man in the audience stated that 55% of litter comes from males aged 15 to 30, and that 25% of litter is unintentional. (The closest backup I could find for this statistic comes from a 2010 report from Don't Trash Arizona that states single males 18-24 were the biggest group of litterers, and 40% is accidental.)

But when educating anyone, child or adult, it's important to connect a reason for them to WANT to recycle. Many people don't feel any benefit from it, and don't want the added burden of doing something outside their routine. I was discussing this with a few people after the speakers concluded, and I thought back to when we visited San Francisco. There, recycling is much more common, especially in public areas. Every public trash can had a recycling bin right next to it. It requires no extra effort on anyone's part to recycle what they can. All you have to do is move your hand over a foot at the most. But here, there are no public recycling bins, and no one (outside of me and a few other people) is willing to haul their recyclables home or somewhere else. Cigarette outposts are also easy solutions that don't detract from the scenery and make a regular post actually functional. Simple steps like these can really elevate the level of recycling.

When discussing ideas on how to engage citizens in recycling, I thought of the Litterati movement. The concept is simple and focuses on reducing litter and promoting recycling – with Instagram. To participate, take a picture of litter you find anywhere, post it on Instagram with the hashtag #litterati, and then responsibly dispose of the item. If it's recyclable, recycle it. If you can safely pick up food and access a compost bin, do that. Geotagged posts help the Litterati organization target hot spots of litter and work with companies in the area to solve the problem for real. I recently shared a photo of a styrofoam to-go box with food still inside. I was unable to recycle or compost anything, but I at least moved it off of the shrub it was sitting on and put it in the dumpster. To me, this concept lends itself well to the age groups of people who recycle the least, and helps to add engagement to a mundane task of getting rid of litter. Maybe by doing something similar with a local spin, local residents can feel more connected to this city and contribute to its cleanliness.

During the breakfast, I had so many ideas floating through my head, and I wanted to immediately write everything down and start making changes in Lafayette. After last Mardi Gras, I was inspired to organize some kind of recycling pickup to follow the parades this year, because of the vast amounts of litter that Mardi Gras inherently creates. The beads could be picked up and donated to nonprofit organizations, who then clean and resell them each year. The plastic, beer cans and paper could be picked up for recycling. Any other waste could be picked up for trash. Needless to say, I did not make it happen this year, but I haven't wavered on my desire to be the one to organize something like this for future years, with the dream that it would happen every year after the parades finish rolling.

I may have mixed feelings and many frustrations about recycling in Lafayette, but I will always feel inspired to do more to help this city move toward being greener and more beautiful. And I hope that I can help inspire others to be more engaged, so we don't have a city full of complacent residents and a recycling company that doesn't seem to care much about making an impact. Recycling and environmentalism is a benefit to EVERYONE.

earth-friendly valentines

Valentine's Day is a mere nine days away. There's so much pressure to make the holiday special for your significant other, but the most important thing is to celebrate in your own style. I've always been a fan of low-key Valentine's Days, because it's just more personal. But however you choose to celebrate, you can make it more sustainable and earth-friendly. And if you're currently single, the Earth can be your Valentine! Pick up some litter you see during the day and recycle it, or take extra effort to not use anything disposable, like plates or coffee cups.

If you're looking for a sweet gift, look to sustainable companies and products, or go local and choose something unique. Get creative or Pinteresty and upcycle some household materials into a unique handmade gift, such as decorative wine bottle vases. Or make something intangible such as a mix tape with special songs that describe your relationship or your feelings for your loved one. (Okay, fine, Spotify playlist or iTunes mix…but mix tape just sounds so much better! And is also the name of one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands, Jack's Mannequin, so there's that.)

Go for organic and fair trade dark chocolate over the 99 cent mystery mix. Organic chocolate is free of pesticides, which means it was produced without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. How romantic!! Fair-trade chocolate ensures that the field workers and producers earn a fair wage for their work. The Fair Trade Federation judges whether products are fair trade or not. And this chocolate not hard to find - many specialty grocery stores and World Market carry fair-trade chocolate.

Take your special person out to dinner at a local restaurant that uses fresh, local ingredients. Or better yet, create your own dinner with farmer's market produce and meats or seafood. A quiet dinner also means your car can stay parked in the driveway.

Choose a wine from a sustainable vineyard, like my favorite Fetzer wines, or choose a wine that comes in an Eco-Glass bottle. Eco-Glass bottles are made with 25% less glass than standard bottles, which has numerous benefits: There is less glass used to hold the wine in general, and the lighter bottles create lighter shipments, saving the transport and delivery trucks on fuel. But they are still strong enough to handle the job of holding wine!

If you're going the flower route, choose a local florist, or pick your own flowers if possible. Which, it may not be possible during this ridiculously brutal winter. I mean, when it snows/sleets more than once in south Louisiana, I can about imagine there aren't too many flowers in any yards right now. And don't give your loved one dead plants, please. I'm not responsible for any fallout from that, just sayin'.

So, however you spend your Valentine's Day, make it greener! Rule of thumb? No disposable anything, no waste, and choose local!


Hook and Boil | Local Restaurant Spotlight

This past weekend, the boyfriend and I ventured out to the huge town of Broussard, Louisiana to have dinner at Hook and Boil. I always like to choose local restaurants over chains to help support the local economy, but also because we just have so many good cooks and local restaurants around town!  (Ramble: On trips or vacations, I try to always eat at local restaurants. If I can eat it at home, I don't want to waste my vacation on it.)

So, back to the point. Hook and Boil just opened in the past two weeks and are off to a great start. Owners Erin and Mark are friends of mine and I'm extremely proud of what they've accomplished already. The restaurant is gorgeous and the food is delicious. All dishes use local ingredients and are prepared by hand, not from a frozen box. Their crawfish comes from the chef/owner Mark's family farm not thirty minutes away. Two brands of local beer (Parish Brewing and Abita) are available at the bar.

We started off with the boudin egg roll appetizer and it is not to be missed. Boudin and Steen's syrup are a perfect combination and I could eat these just about every day (but my exercise routine brings me back to reality). I then had the fried oyster poboy and my man got the Good Morning Broussard burger. Both were gone from the plate within 10 minutes. I also devoured the hell out of those onion strings (which practically equaled an entire onion dumped into the fryer…SO good). What can we say, we were hungry!

One of my favorite features is the branded poboy and burger buns. Co-owner Erin described the tool as a food-grade cattle-brander. It's a unique touch that helps the restaurant create a memorable experience.

What is your favorite local restaurant?


Hook & Boil on Urbanspoon
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