Environmental/health benefits of street sweeping/cleaning


Global Environmental hybrid-electric street sweeper – Source: globalsweeper.com

This past Monday afternoon, Traverse City’s street sweeping/cleaning crew came down our street and swept/cleaned it. Two machines were utilized during the operation – one an Elgin and the other a Global. They removed most of the dirt, grit, salt, grime, oil, dust, and debris that had gathered over the winter months from our street. Needless to say, our street looks much better now.

Elgin hybrid-electric street sweeper – Source: federalsignal.com

Their efforts got me to thinking that other than here in Traverse City, I do not readily recall ever observing street sweeping/cleaning take place on any street or road I have lived on previously. That doesn’t mean it never happened, but I certainly do not remember seeing it occur or remembering the improved road appearance afterwards. Meanwhile, in nearly 4.5 years here, I recall seeing the sweeping/cleaning crews hard at work multiple times on our street, as well as on other thoroughfares throughout the city.

Elgin CNG street sweeper – Source: elginsweeper.com

Observing their efforts on Monday made me realize there really are a lot of benefits derived from routine street sweeping/cleaning, not the least of which are prolonging the life of the pavement, increasing safety, as well as improving property values and community aesthetics. But, in addition to these three, there are many environmental/health benefits (often interrelated) from regular street sweeping/cleaning. These include, but are not necessarily limited to the following:

  • Protect the local watershed – street sweeping/cleaning safely removes many contaminants that would otherwise wash into and pollute nearby streams and waterbodies.
  • Remove of algae-causing materials – regularly swept/cleaned streets helps remove those yard waste items (grass clippings, weeds, leaves, etc.) that contain nitrogen or phosphorus and contribute to the buildup of algae in waterbodies.
  • Protect drinking water resources (particularly surface water resources) – when your community relies on surface water for its potable water supply, keeping contaminants out is of paramount importance.
  • Improve stormwater management – clogged or backed-up storm drains filled with dirt, sand, rocks, debris, etc., which can lead to localized flooding and/or icing in cold weather. Street sweeping/cleaning helps remove these materials and keeps them out of the stormwater drainage system.
  • Protect wetlands – street sweeping/cleaning removes contaminants and other debris from entering nearby wetlands, which in turn allows these natural filters to maintain greater water storage and filtration capacity.
  • Protect wildlife and outdoor pets – routine street sweeping and cleaning removes trash and other waste products which otherwise could be ingested by wildlife/pets, injure them, or be dangerous in other ways.
  • Maintain and protect permeable/porous pavements – one of the biggest headaches related to installing permeable/porous pavement, particularly in northern climates, is the accumulation of dirt, dust, debris, ice, etc. amidst and between the pavers. Routine street sweeping/cleaning (including parking lots) helps them provide the filtration and stormwater capacity they were designed for and prevents potential damage from freezing and thawing.
  • Improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists – for those who commute by foot or bike, or those who just enjoy a leisurely walk or ride, the removal of accumulated debris along a street makes it safer to travel. It also helps keeps pedestrians and cyclists from having to swing in and out of the primary travel lanes to avoid the debris. It is important to note that separate paved multi-purpose trails ought to be swept/cleaned, as well.
  • Reduce potential for freshwater salinization – particularly important in cold-weather climates, routine street sweeping/cleaning helps reduce excess road salt accumulated throughout the winter months. Any and all road salt removal helps reduce the risks to freshwater resources from increased salinization.
  • Pest infestation deterrent – the removal of accumulated trash and debris along streets and roadways helps to reduce the likelihood of unwanted rodent and pest infestations.
  • Dust control – dust is a common air pollutant with can cause both environmental and health problems. Regular street sweeping/cleaning helps reduce the accumulation of dust and control its distribution into the atmosphere. As one who suffers from dust allergies, this benefit is very appealing. Particularly interesting is the development of waterless dust control street sweeping/cleaning equipment, which are especially useful in arid climates (see photo below).

Elgin’s waterless Pelican Sweeper – Source: elginsweeper.com


These environmental/health benefits, combined with the introduction and increased use of more environmentally friendly street sweepers/cleaners [hybrid-electric and compressed natural gas (CNG)], are important reasons for communities of all sizes to adopt regular and routine street sweeping/cleaning protocols. They also clearly demonstrate that street/road care and maintenance and not the only positive reasons for employing street sweepers/cleaners.

Lastly, streets and roadways should not be the only surfaces where sweepers/cleaners are used – the same benefits are derived on airport tarmacs, runways, paved trails, parking lots, and other similar surfaces. The more often they are employed, the better for improving overall environmental and community health.

TYMCO CNG street sweeper – Source: tymco.com


This entry was posted in Advocacy, Alternative transportation, bicycling, Biking, Cars, cities, civics, climate change, commerce, ecosystems, environment, geography, government, health, hiking, humanity, infrastructure, nature, Pets, placemaking, planning, pollution, recreation, rivers/watersheds, spatial design, sustainability, transportation, urban planning, walking and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Environmental/health benefits of street sweeping/cleaning

  1. Ranger says:

    As Editor of WorldSweeper.com, “Earth’s Largest Sweeping Industry Resource,” I’d like permission to link to your article in my April newsletter. You and your readers also may be interested to know that the Florida Department of Environmental Quality and Florida Stormwater Association have determined recently that sweeping is up to more than six times more cost-effective at keeping Total Phosphorus and Total Nitrogen out of our stormwater runoff stream than the next best, catchbasin cleaning. Here’s a link to the info: http://www.worldsweeper.com/Street/Studies/UFloridaSansaloneInterview12.19.html

    Liked by 1 person

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