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<Municipal Solid Waste Management>

Sound Practices
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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 extensively.

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 expected.

Women participate extensively in street sweeping in some areas, particularly in Latin America. This occurs more often in developing than in industrialized countries.

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 sidewalk-washing activities.

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 highly desirable.

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 their neighborhood.

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 ago.

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.

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