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The Green Life: Recycled Mardi Gras Beads Make World's Largest Mosaic

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February 27, 2012

Recycled Mardi Gras Beads Make World's Largest Mosaic

Walking to new orleansOver a million Mardi Gras beads have been diverted from Louisiana landfills as a result of one man's artistic environmentalism.

"Landfills are being filled with up to 25 million pounds [of beads] every year. Multiply that by all of the Gulf Coast and you have an environmental tragedy at our front door," said Stephan Wanger, an artist who reuses the beads in his mosaics.

Wanger, a German native, moved to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. While working with a small construction firm to help rebuild the city, he noticed all the discarded wood doors from gutted houses and the Mardi Gras beads hanging in trees and draped over wrought-iron fences.

"I thought, 'I should be doing something with them,'" he explained.

Wanger has since created dozens of mosaics that not only promote reusing and recycling but also shed light on the character and culture of the city and state he has come to appreciate.

"I started creating images of how I saw New Orleans and Louisiana."

Some mosaics have been acquired by private collections while others have been auctioned off to raise money for charities for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. Wanger has also been busy volunteering at elementary and middle schools in New Orleans to create mosaics, which educate the children about recycling.

"It's a lot of fun," he said. "We're learning and going in the right direction."

Sanctuary of Alegria
Wanger recently finished his largest mosaic yet, a piece so big that it made it into the Guinness Book of World Records. Sanctuary of Alegria -- Home of Happiness is 8 feet tall by 30 feet wide and features the New Orleans skyline. It will be on display in his gallery until March 9.

--Lauren Pope / images courtesy of Stephan Wanger

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