UNO Documentary: The environmental impact of party culture

Editor’s Note: Bourbon street, like New Orleans, is a place like no other. Anything goes in this iconic street; it has often been referred to as “the life of a party town” and “a place for revelry of all sorts”. It appears as if even the most erratic behaviors are legal there. In Bourbon Street partygoers have liberties like open-container drinking and public nudity, which are illegal everywhere else. The street has a never-ending selection of bars and restaurants with different music genres and themes that cater to even the most unique of tastes. The liberties allowed on Bourbon Street often bring to mind the question of “How is this legal?” and have given New Orleans a wild reputation. Famous musicians like Mannie Fresh attest to this reputation saying, “When a lot of people are calling it a night at 2 AM, New Orleans is coming alive,” comments such as these have made New Orleans nightlife iconic. People travel across the country to come let loose and lose their inhibitions in Bourbon Street, especially during Mardi Gras when the city sees an influx of approximately 1.4 million people. The party reputation of New Orleans and the spotlight placed has brought many benefits like tourism to the state but has also resulted in a lack of attention towards more serious issues. New Orleans has deeply entrenched issues regarding its prison system and inequalities with race. Preoccupying stories about how women in the Orleans parish prison can get sterilized to reduce their prison sentence and how prison labor is comparable to slavery don’t get half the attention of stories about the best bars in Bourbon. It would be useful to open people’s eyes to the realities of New Orleans and give attention to the issues that need resolving shifting from people asking, “How is this legal?” to “How is this not illegal?”. This piece was originally published on June 25, 2020.

Editor’s Note: New Orleans has a complicated relationship with its tourists: they generate revenue for local business, helping the good times to continue to roll. But while tourism is the lifeblood of our economy, its damaging environmental impact is often overlooked. Filmmaker Grace Gilpin investigates the consequences of New Orleans’s party culture, uncovering the pitfalls of the laissez-faire lifestyle.


What: The Environmental Impact of Party Culture


Film by: UNO student and documentarian Grace Gilpin


Editor’s Note: NolaVie partners with students of UNO professor László Zsolt Fülöppairing them with artists, non-profits, environmental groups, and cultural entities to facilitate a live curriculum that results in a short documentary. This documentary short was made by Grace Gilpin, a student in the Film and Theatre Department at the University of New Orleans, about the environmental impact of New Orleans’ party culture.


|Read the full transcript of the interview below|

[Full transcription of Grace Gilpin]

Every year New Orleans is visited by 17.74 million tourists. Between Mardi

Gras, countless music and food festivals, our rich history, a vivid art scene, and a

24-hour party culture that never sleeps, tourism is a year-round event and the city never has a low moment.

The tourism industry employs approximately 200,000 locals and brings in an average of 8.7 billion dollars a year, making it the heartbeat of the city and the economy itself. But as we acknowledge and appreciate all the good that these tourists bring in, we can’t forget everything else that they all leave behind.

With the tourism culture not just centered around partying, but one built upon the promotion of binge drinking and extreme alcoholic practices, a visitor of the city may go through more drinks on a weekend trip than they’ve ever consumed

in an entire week before. Drinks served in the most elaborate containers, the bigger the better. Containers that are usually discarded after the perfect picture is taken, too big to be taken home as a souvenir. And just as often as they are properly discarded, they are thrown into nearby streets or bushes because, here in the Big Easy, everyone is carefree in every sense, for better or for worse.

There’s a reason that Mardi Gras, or Ash Wednesday, is often referred to as Trash Wednesday. Built upon the distribution of small trinkets and plastic beads, these seemingly harmless toys leave a huge environmental impact on the city. While some beads do make it back to the hotel room with the patrons, a huge portion of the 25 million pounds of beads distributed are left scattered in the

streets, destined to make it to the sewers below, hanging on trees, fences, and

electrical lines never to be cleaned but thrown directly in the trash of the

surrounding area. With most beads being imported from China, dangerous chemicals including arsenic, bromine, cadmium, chlorine, and lead eventually end up in landfills or even the water supply down below the city. 

But beads and plastic or styrofoam cups aren’t the only footprint that these tourists leave behind. With a major festival ground taking residence in the largest green area of New Orleans, City Park, yearly festivals such as Voodoo Fest, the Beignet Festival, and more bring thousands of people onto the grounds most weekends, leaving the area trampled, muddied, littered, and in disarray after they leave. It is not rare that fauna from the area are forced to leave, pushing squirrels, raccoons, and even coyotes into surrounding neighborhoods.

While unfortunately it is common knowledge not to leave small pets unattended outside during the festival for this reason, that is not the only problem that residents around City Park face. Noise pollution and an extreme influx of vehicles during festivals ruin ecosystems and quality of life alike.

With a recycling program that fell following Katrina, never regained to 100%, recent cuts have caused recycling programs to stop in a multitude of

neighborhoods around New Orleans and recycling centers have begun to limit

what they accept. For many, the problem seems to have no clear solution.

[Full transcription of Carolyn Heneghan]

But I think it can be a joint effort. I think companies need to be more mindful about the products that they’re putting out and, you know, Mardi Gras krewes can be more mindful about the throws that they either provide their crew members or

encourage them to buy and throw. But then, also as individuals, we can make better choices about, you know, how we consume and dispose of the tools of consumption. And it really has to be from both because we can sit here and blame the government. They can sit here and blame it on us as “Oh oh this is what the people want,” you know, because it’s true. But both sides are right. Both sides are right to blame each other, but both sides really would be right to blame themselves, you know. We all have a role in this but that means that we have we all have a role in solving it because if we created it then we can fix it.

[Full transcription of Grace Gilpin]

But through the efforts of all, the impact that party tourism has on the environment of New Orleans is an issue that can be solved. It will take a collaborative effort of locals and tourists alike to change the status quo that has been ingrained in everyone, but it’s an effort that we have no choice but to make.


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