Clean Cities Make Mardi Gras and SXSW a Sweeping Success

Street sweeping in Austin“The success of Mardi Gras depends on the city returning the streets to normalcy and cleanliness as soon after each parade as possible,” says New Orleans Mayor Landrieu in a press release. “I would particularly like to thank Deputy Mayor of Operations Michelle Thomas for leading this effort.”

Attending the week-long Mardi Gras in New Orleans or the two-week-long South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin may be fun, but cleaning up after all of those people is a huge job for those cities and their sweeper trucks.

Mardi Gras

New Orleans had an army of equipment and volunteers on hand to handle litter from the estimated 1 million people in attendance at this year’s Mardi Gras. “We have a Sterling flusher that wets the debris in the street before the hand crews push it into the middle of the street,” says Thomas. “The bobcats and front-end loaders put it in a garbage truck, then the sweepers come, then the hand crews come in again. Finally, the garbage trucks pick up the large bags and litter baskets.”

New Orleans has a unique situation because each float in the parade throws things into the crowd. “They unwrap the items that they are throwing and drop the plastic on the ground,” says Thomas. “In addition to that, because you can drink in public as long as it is in a plastic cup, cups are everywhere. So, you have cups, beads, and lots of other items left on ground. This can be difficult because when the sweepers come through, the beads in particular get caught up in the brushes. When they get full of beads, they don’t pick up as well, so we have to get rakes and hoes to pull the beads out of the brushes and dump them before we can keep moving.”

“A lot of people talk about security, but the cleanliness is what they remember,” says Thomas. “You can’t have the streets dirty. People get up and go to work the next day or go for a jog, and they expect their city to be clean, not filled with litter.”

“We had a well-attended parade that ended at midnight,” recalls Thomas. “We had to wait until the crowd dispersed before we could clean. It was quite a task to clean a 5-mile route in 2 to 3 hours when people leave behind 60 tons of debris.”


When musicians, actors, and other professionals descended on the Live Music Capital for SXSW’s two-week long annual conference, trade show, and festival for music, film and interactive, the employees of the City of Austin Resource Recovery (ARR) had to be ready. This year, ARR expanded their sweeping area, sweepers and hours to accommodate the estimated 400,000 people.

“We sweep before the event gets started, then we sweep every morning just like normal beginning at 2:30 in the morning,” says Litter Abatement Assistant Division Manager Claude Moore. “We only have until about 6 am to do this before traffic gets going, so we use two additional sweepers.”

“We have 22 sweepers to choose from,” says Moore. “Most of them are Tymco, but we also have a few Schwarze. We like them both, and job performance is the same. There aren’t a lot of choices in cabin chassis but my guys prefer a no nose cab.”

ARR pulls in a lot of extra people that usually have other duties to help with sidewalks and trash cans. Because most of the streets are closed to traffic, ARR uses ATVs to collect trash throughout the area and take to garbage trucks. They also tend to rely on backpack blowers to help clear the debris.

“We have our usual challenges of getting everything done during a limited window of time,” says Moore. “The bars don’t close until 2, and after that, the bars are restocking and the bands are swapping equipment.”


The key to success for both cities is preparation. Austin starts planning for SXSW about three months prior to the event, but each year it gets larger and larger and they estimate that their planning time may increase in years to come.

“We have to think about where and when do we start?” says Litter Abatement Division Manager Vidal Maldonado. “How many people is it going to take? We have to think about schedules, equipment, the cost of doing all of this, street closures, the time they are closed and not closed, traffic, and band traffic. There are lots of things to consider. We also work with SXSW people. If a venue is going to do their own thing, then they have to submit a waste plan as apart of the permit process.”

With more than 5,000 events at SXSW that is quite an achievement. If they didn’t have clean-up plans, ARR’s job would be even bigger.

New Orleans has already begun preparations for next year’s Mardi Gras. “Next year, we have the added component of the Super Bowl overlapping Mardi Gras,” says Thomas. “We will definitely start our bidding process a little earlier this year.”

Although Austin has extra trucks on hand that they use during SXSW and the approximate 25 other events during the year, New Orleans goes out for bid each year. This was great news for Elgin who supplied the city with their Eagle sweeper trucks this year, as well as five other contractors. New Orleans also used Caterpillar’s skid steer loader, Case’s front-end loader, backpack blowers by Ryobi and Stihl, and dump trucks by Kenwood, Sterling and International.

Keeping the streets clean is one of the most important components of these events. If tourists view the cities and therefore the events as dirty, they may not want to return.

However, both of these events are sweeping success stories for each city. Last year, Mardi Gras brought in more than $300 million to New Orleans while SXSW brought in more than $150 million to Austin. Both cities estimate bigger numbers this year. SXSW has seen 30 – 40 percent increases in attendance for the past few years while Mardi Gras officials say this year could be a record high for the event.

Story by Jennifer Taylor