Newsletter and Technical Publications
<Municipal Solid Waste Management>
Collection and transfer
1.3.4 Sound technical options - street sweeping
Street sweeping systems
With the exception of the US, Canada, and a few other developed nations,
street sweeping in most countries developing, transition, and industrialized is
predominantly manual. Street sweeping depends on manual labor even in large
cities like Mexico City or Paris, where mechanical sweepers are also used
The use of mechanical sweepers in areas with paved streets is also common in
large industrialized cities. Three-wheeled sweepers are mostly used where parked
cars are frequently found and maneuverability is desired. Four-wheeled sweepers
are used mostly on large thoroughfares or highways where no parked cars are
Women participate extensively in street sweeping in some areas, particularly
in Latin America. This occurs more often in developing than in industrialized
Litter baskets. Litter baskets are the primary containers used for
collection of waste in public places. The design and placement of litter
containers has an important impact on municipal cleansing, as there is a direct
relationship between the opportunity to dispose of materials in public places
and the amount of litter and garbage that ends up on public streets and requires
disposal. Also, the primarily manual street sweepers in developing countries use
litter baskets for depositing the sweepings.
|This status of waste workers can be improved with uniforms and good
equipment. A workforce that takes pride in cleansing work serves to
increase public awareness of the need for a clean city.
(credit: Antonio Fernandez)
Manual systems. Manual systems are the standard in sound practice in
developing, transition, and industrialized countries. Sound practice involves
designating routes which are feasible to be swept in a work day. A key design
feature in a manual system is the approach to collection of the sweepings. Sound
practice in manual systems includes the following variations:
Sweepers pick up their own sweepings, placing them in a cart. The carts then
meet a collection vehicle at a pre-arranged time.
- Sweepers take their carts to small transfer stations located at the
intersection of several sweeping routes.
- The wastes are put into plastic or paper bags and lined up at the curb for
collection by a special truck.
- The sweepings are lined up in piles at the end of the route and collected
by a mechanical sweeper or vacuum truck.
Mechanical systems. Mechanical systems include four- wheeled and
three-wheeled sweepers, and vacuum trucks. Sound practice includes matching the
vehicle to the service area; for example, selecting three-wheeled vehicles in
areas where there are a lot of parked cars. In Europe, mechanical sweepers may
also include water tanks, and sweeping frequently includes street- or
In developing countries, where the norm is manual sweeping, the choice for
mechanical sweeping may be dependent on outside donor financing. Sound practice
may involve optimizing manual systems through increased pickup or better tools,
and does not necessarily involve "upgrading" to mechanical systems,
which may function poorly in the physical environment.
Sweeper health and safety. Sound practice includes outfitting sweepers
with shoes and other protective clothing and equipment, plus brooms and some
type of collector. In areas where there is a high likelihood of human or animal
fecal matter in the sweepings, gloves are important. Dust masks may be advisable
in dusty areas. The opportunity to wash in hot water at the end of the day is
Routes. The factors that go into route planning for street sweeping
include population and housing or building density, road surface, climate,
pedestrian traffic, sand accumulation (if there are nearby beaches), tree
density, and topography.
An adult man or woman sweeps from two to four kilometers a day in Latin
America. This distance is heavily dependent on type of area, pedestrian
education, and frequency of placement of litter containers.
If a heavily used area is swept five times a day, the route will be as little
as four to eight blocks. At a frequency of once a week, the route for an
individual may be as long as 20 km.
Frequency. Street sweeping frequency is dependent on type of area and
how heavily it is trafficked, and even more heavily on pedestrian education
campaigns that address litter- and waste-related behavior. Such campaigns can
have an enormous effect when authorities are willing to persist with them.
Frequency and reliability of collection service is also an important factor, as
better collection can reduce the need for street sweeping. Similarly, covered
trucks allow less litter to be spread by the wind.
Sound practice here involves a combination of custom and frequent evaluation
of current activities to see if they are meeting the needs and goals of the
municipal cleaning program. For example, the introduction into a downtown area
of Western-style fast food restaurants that uses disposable plates and packaging
may require an increase in sweeping as more packaging is thrown on the street.
Poor, unpaved, marginal, or very hilly areas are seldom swept. Sound practice
involves regularly scheduled debris and litter collection, even if sweeping is
physically impossible. A clean-up once a month represents a bare minimum of
service, and sound practice involves a mechanism to respond to neighborhood
complaints or notice that a clean-up is overdue.
Sweeping service areas. Street sweeping is the basic way streets,
sidewalks and public areas are kept clean. There are important equity issues in
street sweeping, in terms of the amount of municipal resources that go to
maintaining cleanliness in various areas. It is common for poor or marginal
areas to receive reduced or inadequate service, or no service at all, while
wealthier or tourist areas receive extensive service. This disparity occurs in
all cities, but is exaggerated in cities in developing countries. Transition
countries formerly had the best distribution of services in this regard, due to
ideological considerations about equity; it is not clear at the present time
whether equity of distribution has survived the period of economic transition.
Public markets. A key element in a street sweeping program is the
cleansing of public markets, which are a feature of commercial life in most
parts of the world.
Sound practice in public market sweeping includes not only collection of
residues and leftover vegetables and foods, but the removal of food packaging,
utensils, bones, peels, etc. Where possible, segregation and separate collection
of organic materials for swine feed, composting, or land-spreading is considered
a better practice than disposing of these materials. In tropical areas, markets
sometimes need to have waste collected twice a day.
Sound practice in sweeping of public markets should be built on local custom,
in terms of the split of responsibility between the vendors and the municipal or
market authorities. In some parts of Africa, for example, the vendor cleans his
or her stall at the end of the market day, putting the waste into a nearby
receptacle and sweeping the dust and small debris into a pile in the walkway
next to the stall. Municipal or contracted street sweepers then clean and wash
the common areas of the market, empty all receptacles in the market, and place
the collected wastes into receptacles located just outside the market. These
receptacles are then emptied by the municipal or contracted collection service
for transportation to the disposal site.
Elements of sound practice - street sweeping
Since street sweeping is a public function, even in residential areas, sound
practice will always entail some involvement of the municipal authorities.
However, there may be a need for more direct accountability than the municipal
government can provide.
Some cities encourage or allow decentralized modes of payment. This occurs
particularly in places where residents believe that this is the only way to
ensure service. For example, in some cities in India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal a
share of the salaries designated for municipal workers in an area is paid by the
community directly to the sweepers, an arrangement which represents an
institutionalization of earlier informal agreements. There are also cases where
residents have financed construction of communal bins and street sweeping in
Street sweeping and economic status
Often a disproportionate amount of funds is spent on meticulous sweeping of
prestigious areas and commercial centers, while basic collection and street
sweeping is neglected for the poorer ones. Sound practice involves an equitable
commitment of resources, since the health of the city may depend as much or more
on the cleanliness of poor areas as it does on the cleanliness of wealthy ones.
Towns and cities with unpaved or poorly paved streets require a special
approach to street sweeping, since they have large amounts of dust and dirt,
which both increases the volumes from street sweeping and prevents the use of
automated equipment. Sound practice here involves, in the first instance,
treating the needs of these areas seriously, and then designing appropriate
systems to keep them clean and disease-free.
Performance guidelines for municipal workers, both in terms of areas covered
and adequacy of sweeping practices, is an important element of sound practice.
In summary, sound practice in street sweeping involves not only sound
technical choices, with an appropriate mix of manual and mechanical activity,
but equity in distribution of services.
As is the case for waste collection, there is some movement to privatize street
sweeping in both industrialized and developing countries. In industrialized
countries, street sweeping is seen as a separate function, and the contracts are
not related to waste collection. In Latin America, contracts usually include
both so that a given private entity can be held accountable for the overall
cleanliness in a given zone. In the last five years, the contracting out of
these services has accelerated, although some experiences date back to 15 years
Explicit justifications for privatization include the promise of greater
efficiency and more direct accountability. Hidden causes include lack of
accountability at overstaffed public agencies or the strength of municipal
unions to restrict change and increased efficiency.
The influence of the multilateral development banks is also having an effect
in terms of increased privatization of street sweeping and municipal cleansing
functions in developing countries. The same ideological climate is stimulating
privatization in North America, and to a lesser extent in Europe.