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To bring a feeling of celebration, are more people turning to confetti?

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Pieces of brightly colored confetti with handwritten wishes on them, pinned to a billboard in Times Square in December 2021.

People write wishes on confetti that will then be dropped on New Year's Eve in Times Square. Stephanie Hughes/Marketplace

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While the New Year’s Eve gathering in Times Square this year is being scaled back, the amount of confetti being dropped on those celebrating is not.

This New Year’s, 3,000 pounds of tissue paper confetti will be dropped on 15,000 people — down from the usual 58,000. Although large gatherings like this are less common these days, more people are looking to confetti to liven up their private celebrations. 

Confetti wasn’t introduced to the Times Square celebration until 1993 (as in, the very first minutes of 1993). People had been celebrating the new year in Times Square for more than a century, with the first ball drop in 1907. The confetti was part of an effort to revitalize Times Square, which was known for being pretty seedy.

“It used to be just a big drunken brawl out there with a bunch of people and no organization,” said Treb Heining, who’s been in charge of the confetti drop ever since it started.

Heining, who helped design the confetti drop, says he’s really more of a “balloon guy.” He says he doesn’t make much money off it but that leading the volunteers who throw confetti is good for his soul.

The 2022 numerals on display in Times Square ahead of New Year’s Eve. (Stephanie Hughes/Marketplace)

“The cue is given at about 20 seconds to midnight. And that raucous sound that you heard doubles. Your arms get goosebumps,” said Heining, who gets choked up talking about the confetti drop.

Heining won’t reveal where the custom-made confetti comes from or how much it costs. He’ll only say it’s made from recycled material and that it’s biodegradable. 

Despite those qualities, ecologist Dannielle Green of Anglia Ruskin University in the United Kingdom said we don’t know how confetti affects the environment. 

“It’s not really been tested. So we can’t really say what impact it’s going to have,” Green said. “If you have to throw something, I don’t know, don’t. I’d say go for the most kind of natural benign thing that you can.”

And people do want to throw things right now. Jennifer Burns, who’s in charge of revenue for the e-commerce site Ultimate Confetti, says it sold close to $1 million worth of confetti this year, near where sales were before the pandemic — and way up from where they were in 2020. Private celebrations like graduations and gender reveal parties are a growing part of her business. 

“It’s something to throw up in the air and just have this big sigh of like, ‘Ah,’” Burns said. “It’s just fun. And it’s usually very cost-effective fun.”

“It’s a feeling of almost doing something naughty, when you’re allowed, or when your job is to make this mess,” said Treb Heining. “It strikes an emotional chord.”

And at a time when there’s a lot of rules to follow, we could all use a little release. Especially if it’s one that doesn’t break the budget.

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