MacDonald Training Center will recycle and resell thousands of pounds of Gasparilla beads

It’s that time of year again. When pirates invade Tampa Bay, when wannabe pirates party, and when no one cares for a drop or two. But what happens to them once the big day is over?

Beads that don’t make it home end up on the floor, then in boxes collected by the city of Tampa and volunteers. And then they arrive at the MacDonald Training Center.

“We don’t know how many we could get this year,” said program coordinator Krista Wright.

In 2020, they recovered 4,000 pounds of pearls or approximately 13,000 necklaces that pirates leave behind. Then they get to work untangling, bundling and packing for next year.

“There’s material handling, there’s sorting, there’s repackaging or packaging, there’s quality control,” Wright explained.

These skills are especially valuable given that the MacDonald Training Center employs people of varying abilities who work to gain independence. Fifty of them will work to repackage the beads to be sold for next year’s parade.

“These are skills they can use to then get jobs in the community in logistics, manufacturing, a packaging plant,” Wright commented.

For the city of Tampa, the program keeps loot out of the bay and out of landfills. Collars can also clog their recycling machines. So knowing that the pearls are going to a program that helps people become contributing members of society is a double win for taxpayers.

“This is an education and awareness campaign that can get people thinking that these beads can be used for something else,” said City of Tampa Recycling Coordinator Edgar Castro Tello.

So the next time you’re jumping for joy at your new pearls or picking up a pack of them at the MacDonald Center or their website, remember who had them in their hands before you.

“As they move on and find a job and their place on a team, in a company, and have their work families and settle into their own lives, there’s nothing better,” Wright said.

The pearls go on sale for $60 for 1,000 necklaces.

Link: Unwanted pearls can be dropped off in collection bins at several locations in the Bay Area, including those found at

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