Above: When Mardi Gras partying subsides, Lafayette's cleanup crew—including a team of Elgin Eagle and Pelican sweepers—moves in at night. Left: Mardi Gras parades in Lafayette, La., leave behind many fond memories—and tons of litter, which cleanup crews must sweep away before the next morning. Photos: Lafayette Department of Public Works

Lafayette, La., which has a population of 105,000, annually hosts dozens of parades during the festive pre-Lenten season, sponsored by the Mystic Krewes of Mardi Gras. However, none is as important as the cleanup crew. Cleanup efforts by the city's Department of Public Works (DPW) involves several Pelican and Eagle sweepers, manufactured by Elgin Sweeper, Elgin, 111. The work also calls for four tandem dump trucks and 140 city and parish employees— all committed to cleaning up the streets after the witching hour arrives on Fat Tuesday and before dawn on Ash Wednesday.

Mardi Gras revelers spend more than $1 million on beads, doubloons, and other disposable “throws.” While much of this goes home as souvenirs, a lot gets dropped, then trampled and crushed by the crowds.

DPW labor foreman Paul Prejean, a 23-year department veteran, said that the beginnings and the ends of the parade routes contain the heaviest debris concentrations. Also, all along the routes, people set up tables with grills, smokers, and portable barbecue cookers, leaving food, used paper plates and cups, and wrappers behind.

This situation is not taken lightly. St. Martin Parish coroner Daniel Wiltz—grand marshal of the 2004 Lafayette Mardi Gras Association's parade—said removing the debris littering the streets soon after the parades is important, so it doesn't become a public health concern. “The immediate removal of the litter, especially in inclement weather as we had during this year's Mardi Gras, prevents from 60% to 90% of the potentially toxic solutions from infiltrating the ground water,” said Wiltx. “This is a significant ecological benefit to the community.” Street superintendent Steve Trumps added that Lafayette's stormwater is not treated, but discharged directly into nearby bayous that run through the town.

Cleanup begins with police closing down a given area between intersections. Hand crews with brooms, rakes, and portable blowers move debris from the sidewalks and grass into the streets. Mechanized crews move in with dump trucks and ground-support personnel, then, the Elgin sweepers arrive.

First, the machines sweep an over- lapping pass behind the lead Eagle sweeper next to the curbs. Pelican sweepers circle their way to the center of the street, some- times making several passes, until it is clean of debris. The Eagle is a four-wheel mechanical broom sweeper, with variable high-dump capabilities and highway transport speeds for maximum productivity, while the Pelican is a three-wheel sweeper with a 3.5-cubic-yard, high-dump hopper.

At each intersection along the way, two sweepers move down each side street and clear at least half a block before continuing down the main road. After each sweeper has filled its hopper, it empties its load into a 14-cubic-yard dump truck. Once each zone is cleaned, the police leapfrog from back to front, and the DPW contingent moves forward, leaving behind a totally clean street.

The crews have to clean an estimated 16 to 20 curb miles after every Mardi Gras parade. During fair weather, parades have generated more than 100 tons of debris. In rainy weather, total tonnage drops, but material becomes considerably harder to retrieve.

Street maintenance foreman Alton Batiste said preventative sweeper maintenance is key. Also important is having mechanics on duty in case a sweeper breaks down and has to be repaired so that it can be returned to work quickly to keep the effort rolling.

Gini McKain is a Florida-based business writer.