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Recycle yer beads: Bring leftover Gasparilla beads to The Florida Aquarium for discounted tickets

The aquarium will be collecting beads now through Feb. 5 in support of the mayor's "Bead Free Bay" initiative.

TAMPA, Fla. — Ahoy, mateys!

We know ye and yer krewe seized a ton of precious pirate booty during Saturday's Gasparilla parade. But now that the celebrations are over, you may be wondering what to do with all those beads.

The Florida Aquarium is teaming up with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor to take them off your hands as part of the "Bead Free Bay" initiative.

The aquarium will be collecting unwanted Gasparilla beads now through Feb. 5 in an effort to protect our environment and sea life.

“These beads are worth a million dollars on Gasparilla day. Here we are on Monday morning, where they are worthless," Castor said.

Here's some good news: For every five-gallon bucket of beads a person donates, they will receive a half-price ticket for admission into the aquarium. The collected beads will be donated to the MacDonald Training Center, where the beads will the sorted and resold for Gasparilla next year.

The MacDonald Training Center is a nonprofit that helps adults with disabilities learn vocational skills and prepare for the workforce. They are accepting beads through the end of May for anyone willing to part ways with their party jewelry. 

"The one pertaining to the Gasparilla beads is the jobs skills training that it provides," Krista Wright, the developer of certificate programs with MTC, said. "Our clients and students in our certificate program get an opportunity to have that paid work where they're sorting, transporting the bins, so it's material handling."

MTC also packaged SunPasses for the entire state and handles electronics recycling. Through the bead reuse program, the beads are sold after they're cleaned and packaged.

“An opportunity for us to generate unrestricted revenue that feeds into all of our programs and services," Wright said.

There are 3 bead collection sites across Tampa. You can also bring beads to MTC. 

  • • Kate Jackson Community Center – 821 S Rome Ave.
  • • Loretta Ingraham Recreation Complex – 1611 N Hubert Ave.
  • • Copeland Park Center – 11001 N 15th St.
  • • MacDonald Training Center – 5420 W Cypress St.

 The money raised goes straight back into MTC. Last year, roughly 4,000 pounds of beads were brought to MTC for reuse. They finished sorting through them just a few weeks shy of the 2022 parade. They still sold out of all their beads.

“We’re doing everything we can to keep these beads from harming our sea life and our waterways but also making sure that they are recycled and used again for good purpose," the mayor added.

Something else to keep in mind? Festival beads can't be traditionally recycled. The community's best option for reducing waste is to continue to reuse the same beads.

“The only way they can be recycled is to donate them, and then they can be rebanded and sold back to those gnarly pirates," Castor said.

The mayor launched "Bead Free Bay" as a way to help marine animals by keeping plastics out of the water. 

To be clear, this doesn't mean beads can't be thrown during the celebrations. They just can't wind up in the bay.

"Tampa is an incredible city, Tampa Bay is the best place in the world to live, and one of the big reasons for that is because of our location on the beautiful waterfront," Castor said. "There are no beads allowed to be thrown out on the water, we need to keep all of our beads and all of that festive part of Gasparilla activities on land."

Divers with the Florida Aquarium recovered 120 pounds of beads from the water in 2019 near Bayshore Boulevard, right along the Gasparilla parade route, according to the city of Tampa.

The city says "beads and other non-biodegradable items are incredibly harmful to the environment and pose serious threats to marine wildlife." That's because beads take hundreds of years to break down into microplastics, which remain in the environment forever, the city says. 

"They persist in the natural food web, causing harm not only to the environment but to all living things, people included," the city stated, in part. "The health of waterways directly correlates to the health of society."

Not only is throwing beads bad for the environment, but it's also illegal in Florida. Throwing beads, or anything else, into the water is prohibited under Florida Statute 403.413.

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