Mardi Gras floods New Orleans in plastic beads. One scientist has a gooey fix.

cleanup krewe A herd of dragons, followed by a brass band, and a float full of Star Wars characters rolled down St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans earlier this week, pelting onlookers with shiny beads. When it was over, misthrown necklaces dangled from tree branches and pooled in streetcar tracks. It’s a scene that played out dozens of times across greater New Orleans over recent weeks. And boy does it make a mess. The Mardi Gras season came to a close on Tuesday, but beads remain scattered everywhere, clogging the city’s sewers. Last year, New Orleans vacuumed 93,000 pounds of plastic beads out of its storm drains. Someday, historians may look back on our current fossil-fueled plastic era — the geological layer peppered with K-cups, water bottles, and straws — as one particularly bad Fat Tuesday binge. But at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, molecular biologist Naohiro Kato is working to fix the local version of the plastic problem: Kato has figured out how to fashion biodegradable beads and doubloons out of algae. Naohiro Kato Paige Jarreau, LSU Kato isn’t exactly into plastics — his research is all about finding medicines in algae. But back in 2013, a […]

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