Planning, Execution Key to Large-Event Cleanup in New York, New Orleans

Cheryl McMullen, Freelance writer

February 2, 2015

4 Min Read
Planning, Execution Key to Large-Event Cleanup in New York, New Orleans

Communities across the country pride themselves on hometown events and festivals drawing large crowds from near and far. But visitors to some of the nation's biggest festivals leave piles of garbage for cleanup. 

So what does it take to clean up after thousands of revelers at huge venues like Mardi Gras in New Orleans and New York City's Ball drop in Times Square?

First, it's planning.

“New Year’s Eve in New York City brings not only millions of people to the Times Square area, but also tons of debris,” said Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia. 

This year the city collected 48 tons of post-reveling waste made up of everything from party hats and noise blowers to a solid ton of paper confetti. 

Cleaning up is no breeze.

It takes 178 sanitation workers, 25 officers and two chiefs just to get started. Another 26 mechanical sweepers, 38 leaf blowers and 25 open-bodied collection trucks and other street-cleaning equipment clear the area. 

Crews cover five blocks running east to west and 26 blocks running north to south, dealing with a total of one square mile of party rubble.

The night begins with a roll call, gathering all the workers together, says Jeff Pitts, Deputy Chief, NYC Department of Sanitation.

"We emphasize safety, and we emphasize quality work," he said.

Workers move trash from the sidewalks to the curbs with hand brooms and blowers. Mechanical brooms pick up the waste and dump it into the collection trucks and off it goes. The process is repeated until the mess is gone.

“Thanks to a small army of sanitation employees, every piece of confetti will be quickly cleared away,” said Garcia.

Often, by 7 a.m., sanitation workers have cleared the better part of the trash and some streets are already open for traffic.

"It takes a strong, dedicated, focused workforce to get that job done", said Pitts. "And that's the reason they call us 'New York's Strongest'." 

It's a process perfected and tweaked year to year, but 48 hours after the ball drops, the proof that a million people just celebrated the New Year very nearly disappears.

“The cleanup is a tremendous undertaking that’s done smoothly, efficiently, and quickly to open the area to pedestrian and vehicular traffic,” said Garcia. “Our employees take pride in cleaning up after a big celebration and look forward to doing it again next year.” 

Known for good times and better celebrations, New Orleans, La., hosted more than 400 festivals and events in 2014, but none bigger or more complex, than Mardi Gras. 

"Collecting and disposing of waste is a key challenge for any major event, which is why the City dedicates considerable manpower and equipment to get the job done quickly and effectively" says Bradley Howard, press secretary for New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. "New Orleans knows how to throw a party, and we handle large events all the time, so the city is fully prepared."

Between 300 and 600 workers, depending on parade size, handle the waste. This includes laborers, supervisors, monitors, equipment operators, van and bus drivers, check in/out personnel and NOPD escorts. Workers include a mix of city, NOLA 4 LIFE/JOB1 and contract labor to staff parade cleanup segments. And they are put to work over and over again.

Two of the season's biggest parades, held the weekend prior to Mardi Gras Day (or Fat Tuesday), leave their mark. These two parades alone, hosted by the Endymion and Bacchus krewes, boast more 2,000 members who toss upwards of 1.5 million cups, 2.5 million doubloons and 200,000 gross of beads, according to Keep Louisiana Beautiful. 

Following each parade, is a well-orchestrated cleanup crew and its police escort. Workers and vehicles sweep up the throws, food and liquid waste as well as boxes and plastic bags along the routes. 

Each night's cleanup time depends on the volume of trash, the number and size of parades, equipment-related issues and the weather, Howard says.  

"We target completion of each cleanup within three hours of the ending time of the last parade," he says.

Fat Tuesday is the culmination of 10 days of Carnival crowds, fun and trash. 

Howard says city faces challenges dependent on revelers.

"Following a parade outside of the French Quarter, there are more open spaces which require cleaning," says Howard. "The size of the cleanup area is larger, but the crowds tend to dissipate from the parade routes more quickly. 

"Mardi Gras clean up in the (French Quarter) includes a longer period of time due to the lingering crowds," he said.

Fat Tuesday crowds along Bourbon Street are slow to disperse. City police drive in, blue lights flashing, signaling Mardi Gras' official end. Next, a parade made of street-cleaning trucks and crew, gets to work.

"The main focus is to successfully remove all debris and trash and ensure New Orleanians wake up to a clean city after Mardi Gras," Howard says. "City workers who work overtime during Mardi Gras take pride in cleaning the city."

About the Author(s)

Cheryl McMullen

Freelance writer, Waste360

Cheryl McMullen is a freelance journalist from Akron, Ohio, covering solid waste collection and transfer for Waste360.

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