The aftermath: Mardi Gras trash at 620 tons and counting

As life returns to normal in post-Mardi Gras New Orleans, clean-up crews are working to dispose the huge amount of trash generated by the annual carnival celebration.

So far, city and contractor crews have sent around 620 tons of debris to the landfill since the first major parade weekend, according to the director of the city’s Department of Sanitation, Cynthia Sylvain-Lear. That’s short of the average roughly 900 tons of debris Mardi Gras typically produces as well as the 1,300-ton mark the city notched last year, Sylvain-Lear said.

But there’s still a long way to go.

“Our tonnage may be higher this year,” Sylvain-Lear said Wednesday (Feb. 14).

Sylvain-Lear noted that crews had “maxed out” the capacity of available dump trucks and 48-foot trailers. She said the city tapped 850 workers during peak clean-up periods from several city agencies plus the Sewerage & Water Board, including a “large amount” of contractor labor and equipment. Street sweeping is further complicated, Sylvain-Lear said, by parades running simultaneously at times on the city’s west and east banks.

“It really is a tremendous effort to do Mardi Gras,” Sylvain-Lear said. “We cruise around and we get it all done.”

Aside from manual labor, the city’s interim Department of Public Works director, Dani Galloway, said hundreds of bead-blocking “gutter buddies” managed to largely keep Mardi Gras beads and other items out of storm drains. After announcing that emergency contract crews had culled about 93,000 pounds of beads from catch basins late last year, the city purchased around 250 filtering gutter buddies from a contractor, Hard Rock Construction, and lined them along the Uptown parade route.

“I think we were able to prevent a lot of beads and other debris from going in the catch basins,” Galloway said Wednesday. “And even though we had a couple of days of rain, it worked as it was designed.”

Galloway said public works crews have started picking up the gutter buddies and that, more than likely, the gutter buddies will return for next year’s Mardi Gras. Galloway also praised parade-goers for helping shift some of the gutter buddies back into place that been moved during parades – though she added that crews also had a plan for checking errant gutter buddies to return them to their proper positions.

“I saw a lot of people adjusting them with their feet and things like that,” Galloway said. “That was heartening to see our residents taking some accountability as well.”

Ahead of Mardi Gras, Galloway said Public Works collaborated with the sanitation department to make sure clean-up crews followed city protocol by sweeping debris away from catch basins. Speaking Monday, Sylvain-Lear said crews are trained to sweep debris into the middle of the street, where street-sweeping equipment lap up the trash.

“We have never had a process of sweeping anything into the drains.,” Sylvain-Lear said. “It’s the sheer volume.” 

As for personnel, Sylvain-Lear explained that one of…

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