Clean It Up! How These 6 Cities Deal with Dirt and Trash

No city is immune to dirt and debris. Just ask a municipal street sweeper.

When people move around town, they tend to leave clutter in their wake. A storm blows through the area and leaves sediment behind. Careless travelers throw an empty plastic bottle out the window. Pedestrians track through dust, leaves, and water, leaving dirt and debris on city streets.

Through it all, municipal workers manage to tidy those streets and leave the city ready for action the following day.

Of course, any city deals with dirt. However, some cities clean up well, while others struggle. Consider the following examples:

1. New Orleans, LA

As if Hurricane Katrina didn’t wreak enough havoc on The Big Easy, the city endures another big mess each year after festivals and celebrations. These two challenges make New Orleans an easy top pick for dirtiest city in the U.S., as chosen by the readers of Travel and Leisure magazine in 2015.

Of course, New Orleans suffers from a decided disadvantage. Few municipalities have to deal with long-term hurricane cleanup along with everything else. Katrina packed a punch to the city that even regular street sweeping can’t fix.

The next challenge is Mardi Gras, a top attraction for American and worldwide tourists. Street cleaners use Herculean efforts to clean up the mess left behind after each annual Fat Tuesday. That’s in addition to their regular sweeping routes every other day of the year.

2. Madrid, Spain

Sometimes, cities get dirty and stay that way for weeks. This scenario happened to Madrid, Spain after a city-wide strike of street cleaners in November 2013.

The strike began after several large service companies cut over a thousand jobs, reducing the workforce by 18 percent. Remaining workers faced salary cuts as well. During the strike, street cleaners left trash and recycling bins unemptied. Falling leaves clogged running water in streets and drains. Broken bottles and trash lay on the streets.

After the strike, workers resumed their cleaning duties. However, this example shows how quickly a little debris can become a health and economic disaster without prompt intervention.

3. Essen, Germany

Contrast Madrid’s dilemma to another European city. Not even budget cuts are enough to stop the Germans from cleaning their streets and public areas. Just ask city workers in Essen, Germany.

In October 2014, Essen social workers monitored a small ‘pick-up’ team of drug addicts and alcoholics during half-day street-cleaning shifts. Following a typical four-hour shift, each participant received a small hourly wage, a hot meal, and beverages.

By means of this project, social workers hoped to instill a new purpose and routine in each addict. The clean streets were just a bonus.

4. Beijing, China

Street sweepers play an important role in any metropolitan area-particularly large cities that contain millions of residents. Beijing, China provides a telling example.

Like other large cities, Beijing employs multiple street cleaning methods. Some cleaning teams use motorized cleaning trucks; others use hand-push sweepers. Thanks to China’s worldwide manufacturing prowess, city workers can choose the right sweeping model for any application.

Beijing’s most famous street sweeper, Yu Youzhen, is never late for her street sweeping job. She doesn’t believe in taking time off either-despite the fact that she’s also a millionaire. The reason? She wants to provide a hard-working example to her children. Meanwhile, she helps clear away city debris.

In smaller Chinese cities, street sweepers make do with old-fashioned brooms, sometimes roped together in a circle and attached to a truck. This may not be the most effective method, but it nonetheless indicates a desire to keep cities clean.

5. Mumbai (Bombay), India

China is not the only populous nation that attempts to clean its many crowded streets. Throughout India, street sweepers face similar crowds and similar cleaning problems.

For example, because drinking water is scarce throughout India, street sweepers must ensure that they don’t waste water reserves. Dust is also a constant problem in India, so sweepers have to spray with water before they vacuum. Some manufacturers try to solve the problem with regenerative-water sweeping machines.

Poorer areas still rely on human labor and push brooms. Machines are few and far between in the country. However, Mumbai manufacturers strive to create effective sweeping options for large cities. Despite those efforts, nearly 50 percent of India’s streets stay dirty each month.

6. Orlando, FL

During a typical year in Orlando, street sweepers must clean and maintain over 55,000 collective miles of city roadways. That’s a lot of sweeping!

Orlando is also typical of many other American cities that dedicate resources to regular street cleaning. Trained operators keep the city clean so traffic can run more smoothly, businesses can present a professional image, and residents can stay safe.

Orlando natives are accustomed to seeing street sweepers after parades and concerts. Area contractors rely on sweepers to prevent construction runoff. And everyone benefits from a clean city.


As you can see, every city faces different challenges when it comes to street cleaning. The next time you’re tempted to take your clean city for granted, remember your local street sweepers. Your surroundings might look completely different without their dedicated service!