Read the full story in Grist.
Shiny, colorful bead necklaces, also known as “throws,” are now synonymous with Mardi Gras.
Even if you’ve never been to the Carnival celebrations, you probably know the typical scene that plays out on New Orleans’ Bourbon Street every year: Revelers line up along the parade route to collect beads tossed from floats. Many try to collect as many as possible, and some drunken revelers will even expose themselves in exchange for the plastic trinkets.
But the celebratory atmosphere couldn’t be more different from the grim factories in the Fujian province of China, where teenage girls work around the clock making and stringing together the green, purple, and gold beads.
I’ve spent several years researching the circulation of these plastic beads, and their life doesn’t begin and end that one week in New Orleans. Beneath the sheen of the beads is a story that’s far more complex — one that takes place in the Middle East, China, and the United States, and is symptomatic of a consumer culture built on waste, exploitation, and toxic chemicals.