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Keep Gasparilla beads out of Tampa Bay with the Florida Aquarium

Check out how to put those Gasparilla beads to good use.

Someone throws beads from a float at Gasparilla. The beads are in mid-air and the sky is clear.

Catch, wear, recycle.

Photo via City of Tampa

It can be hard to know what to do with your beads once the Gasparilla festivities are over. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

You can drop them off at the Florida Aquarium, thanks to its annual bead recycling program. Here’s some need-to-know info:

Why recycle beads?

Back in 2019, it became clear just how much trash was going into Tampa Bay when a team of volunteer divers from the aquarium pulled ~200 pounds of beads from our waters.

Later that year, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor launched the ongoing “Bead-Free Bay” initiative, which is managed by the aquarium’s marketing team. At the launch, Castor explained, “it is up to us to maintain the pristine character of [our bay] for all of the marine life.”

The city says beads and other litter in the Bay pose the following threats + issues:

  • Beads take centuries to break down, eventually becoming non-composable microplastics which remain in the water indefinitely.
  • The shiny plastic objects can be harmful for wildlife who mistake them for food.
  • Thousands of hours of work are needed to clear up the mess.
  • Litter in the water damages our area’s natural beauty.

Despite the city’s launch of the initiative, a further ~38 pounds of beads were retrieved by the aquarium’s divers after Gasparilla in 2020, just weeks after the program began.

A blue bin at the Florida Aquarium, designated for bead recycling. It is mostly empty, with a few beads lining the floor of the bucket currently. The lobby has people walking into the aquarium, with adults and children present.

Beads go in this bucket, situated in the Florida Aquarium’s lobby.

How to recycle beads

It’s easier than you think. Here’s how it works:

  • All you need to do is bring your beads to the Florida Aquarium through Sunday, Feb. 11.
  • Recyclers get 50% off one adult general admission ticket to the aquarium for every five gallons of beads delivered.
  • At the end of the program, the aquarium will donate the beads to the MacDonald Training Center — a nonprofit which provides vocational training for people with disabilities.
  • MTC will then sanitize, repackage, and reuse the beads at future events, helping to reduce the need for single-use plastics.

Check out the Florida Aquarium for more info about ongoing conservation efforts + volunteering opportunities.

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