As the biggest New Year's Eve celebration since the start of the pandemic wound down in Times Square Saturday night, New York City’s sanitation workers geared up for what to them is as much a tradition as the ball drop.
About 300 workers fired up 33 street sweepers, 30 collection trucks, 57 backpack blowers and 60 hand brooms to clear away the mountain of confetti and trash left by revelers. This New Year's Eve Times Square celebration was the first fully open event after two years of celebrating under COVID restrictions (the event had been heavily restricted in 2020).
“The Department of Sanitation does this every year for many, many, many years,” said New York City Sanitation Commissioner Jessica Tisch. “We know exactly what we're doing, we know how this cleanup works.”
Their work involves multiple shifts over 24 hours and starts before the event even begins.
“With the biggest party in the world comes the biggest cleanup,” said Jeff Pitts, chief of cleaning for the sanitation department. “We clean before the event, during the event and after the event.”
Starting the morning of Dec. 31, Pitts said his crew begins the day's work with a pre-clean, where workers move through Times Square and remove garbage cans and any litter that’s already there. Then, throughout the day and evening, Pitts and his crew continue to clean outside and inside the Times Square perimeter.
After the ball drops and 3,000 pounds of confetti are dumped onto the crowd, Pitts’s team turns out en force, starting at the perimeter of the area and moving inward until they all meet at the heart of Times Square at 42nd Street. They have to do this while working their way around the tens of thousands of spectators shambling in waves back to their homes and hotels.
“The first wave of spectators get pushed out, but then you get the second wave of people from in the area that want to take pictures,” said Pitts.
Pitts also says that this year’s weather made cleanup tougher. High temperatures drew a larger crowd, while the rain turned the confetti into a sticky mess on the pavement. Pitts said his workers had to manually peel the soaked confetti away with push brooms.
Times Square was spic and span and ready for business by about 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, Pitts said. But, even then, his team’s job wasn’t over.
Pitts and his crew have to canvas the event area over and over to get all the residual confetti and trash. The winds blow confetti off roofs, damp bits of paper get caught in places, and vehicles that have been parked overnight move, revealing whatever trash was underneath them.
At 9:30 a.m. Sunday they were still making the rounds and cleaning up trash. Pitts said it was too early to estimate how much biodegradable confetti and garbage his crews will clean up, but said it’s likely to be more than 100,000 pounds. Once collected, it will be barged out of the city with the rest of the day's garbage, he said.