This image shows street sweepings can be filtered and recycled for sanding or filling
Street sweepings can be filtered and recycled for sanding or filling Image Courtesy of Emmons & Olivier Resources, Inc.
This image shows a no parking for street sweeping sign. Image Courtesy of Emmons & Olivier Resources, Inc.
No parking for street sweeping sign

Pollutants collect on surfaces in between storm events as a result of atmospheric deposition, vehicle emissions, winter road maintenance, construction site debris, trash, road wear and tear, and litter from adjacent lawn maintenance (grass clippings). Sweeping of materials such as sand, salt, leaves and debris from city streets, parking lots and sidewalks prevents them from being washed into storm sewers and surface waters. Timing, frequency and critical area targeting greatly influence the effectiveness of sweeping.

This fact sheet provides an overview of studies assessing the benefits of street and parking lot sweeping and guidance on improving the pollution reduction benefits of sweeping programs applicable to Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPPs). For more information, also link here.

Benefits and pollution reduction

Regular street sweeping reduces the amount of pollutants that get washed into the storm drain and ultimately discharge to lakes, rivers and wetlands. Targeted pollutants include sediment, trash and debris, leaves, organic matter and nutrients; metals and hydrocarbons. The following pollutant removal efficiencies for total solids (TS), total phosphorus (TP) and total nitrogen (TN) are from a conceptual model developed by the Center for Watershed Protection based on research findings from a variety of studies.

The lower removal efficiencies represent monthly street sweeping by a mechanical street sweeper. The upper efficiencies characterize the pollutant removal efficiencies using a regenerative air or vacuum street sweeper at weekly frequencies. Note that the relatively high frequencies of sweeping generate particularly low removal efficiencies, indicating that sweeping, although an effective aesthetic practice, does not necessarily translate into improved water quality. This is a similar finding of Selbig and Bannerman (2007) in their study of street sweeping in Madison, WI. Even so, every pound of trash and debris removed by sweeping is another pound not entering local waterbodies.

Pollutant removal efficiencies from street sweeping for total solids, total phosphorus, and total nitrogen. Source: Deriving Reliable Pollutant Removal Rates for Municipal Street Sweeping and Storm Drain Cleanout Programs in the Chesapeake Bay Basin. Center for Watershed Protection.
Link to this table

Frequency Technology TS % TP % TN %
Monthly Mechanical 9 3 3
Regenerative Air/Vacuum 22 4 4
Weekly Mechanical 13 5 6
Regenerative Air/Vacuum 31 8 7

Program development and implementation

Surface sweeping program assessment

The Center for Watershed Protection recommends considering the following questions in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your surface sweeping program.

  • What surfaces or streets in the community are dirtier than others (e.g. have higher street particulate matter loadings compared to others)? Which streets drain to sensitive water bodies? Prioritize streets with higher loadings. The City of Rochester, New York, has an online street sweeping request form. This contributes to the City’s ability to identify dirty streets and surfaces for more frequent cleaning.
Many cities identify street areas draining to sensitive receiving waters, such as lakes, or to BMPs that could clog with debris and prioritize sweeping on those streets. Consider conducting a street and storm drains investigation, a visual inspection of pollutant accumulation along streets, curbs and gutters, in lake deltas, and storm drain inlets based on the Center for Watershed Protection’s Urban Subwatershed Restoration Manual No. 11: Unified Subwatershed and Site Reconnaissance: A User's Manual.
  • What proportion of streets and surfaces in the community is swept? Increase this proportion to the extent feasible. The City of Rochester, New York, developed a database to track street sweeping and calculate the total lane miles swept annually. This provides a benchmark for setting goals for future years.
  • What is the frequency of street sweeping for public streets? Ensure the frequency is at a minimum twice per year (in the fall after the leaves have fallen and in the spring after the snow is gone to get the sand and winter debris); see the recommendations in the Key Program Elements section below.
  • What problems affect the performance of street sweeping (e.g., on-street parking, inadequate budget, untrained operators, distance to storage and disposal facilities)? Once identified, explore means to address the problems.
  • What technology is being used? Increase the range of particle size swept by using regenerative air or vacuum sweepers.
  • What is the size of the street sweeper fleet? Consider if fleet size is a barrier to efficiency. Many cities hire contractors rather than buy their own sweepers.
  • How do you dispose of material collected from the street sweepers? For example, the City of Madison hauls most debris to the county landfill where it gets used as a daily cover for the trash and therefore, is disposed of at no charge. In the fall, when most collected material is leaves, the material is composted at a county site. Some cities filter and recycle their street sweepings for sanding or fill. For additional guidance on reusing street sweepings, see Managing Street Sweepings by MPCA.
An ideal surface sweeping program would answer yes to the following questions. Any missing program elements should be further considered to improve the surface sweeping program:
  • Does your community schedule leaf pickup and subsequent street sweeping in the fall to pick up leaves and other organic matter? Do sweepers pick up leaf piles?
  • Does your community schedule street sweeping in the early spring to pick up sand, salt and other street deicing materials?
  • Does your community use street sweeping equipment (e.g. regenerative-air sweepers, vacuum-assist sweepers) that is capable of picking up a wide range of sediment particles?
  • Is tandem sweeping used?
  • Are no-parking zones used to increase pick up efficiency?
  • Does your MS4 provide regular stormwater pollution prevention training and education to employees and contractors involved with street sweeping activities?

Key program elements

  • Sweeper technology and operations. Water quality protection is dependent on the sweeper’s pick-up efficiency of fine-grained sediment because many pollutants are adsorbed to them. Street sweeping has historically been more effective at removing only large-sized particles providing little pollution prevention but, new technologies are emerging that will remove smaller, fine-grained particles.
  • Types of sweepers - There are three main types of sweepers including mechanical broom, regenerative-air, and vacuum-assist. Mechanical broom sweepers are typically the least expensive but are better suited to pick up large-grained sediment particles and clean wet surfaces. They tend to create dust during operation, potentially increasing atmospheric loading of dust and/or increasing the amount of fine particles on the pavement that could ultimately wash through storm drains to surface waters. Regenerative air and vacuum-assist sweepers are better at removing fine-grained sediment particles, but are less effective on wet surfaces and are more expensive. Using a mechanical sweeper for large particles followed by a regenerative-air cleaner can be effective. No matter the equipment, tandem sweeping (when one sweeper follows another along the same route to pick up missed material) improves removal efficiency. A single sweeper that makes multiple passes on a surface has the same effect.
In early 2008, Minnesota Local Road Research Board’s Research Implementation Committee (LRRB-RIC) completed helpful guides to street sweeping. Specifically, the Resource for Implementing a Street Sweeping Practice includes information sheets that provide guidance for technical staff, policy and decision makers on: best practices overview, types of sweepers, reasons for sweeping and sweeping and roadway function.
  • Sweeper frequency - Part of the LRRB-RIC research identified that Minnesota falls behind other states in terms of street sweeping frequency. Study surveys showed that Minnesota street sweeping frequency falls lower than nationwide averages. A typical Minnesota city sweeps two times annually, in spring and fall, while the national average was 10 times each year. At a minimum, sweeping should occur in early spring (before rainfall) and in the fall after most leaves have dropped. Early spring sweeping gathers remnant pollutants from winter activities including sand and de-icing material. Fall street sweeping should be coordinated with leaf pickup especially in MS4s with substantial deciduous trees. An additional sweeping in June, after trees drop seeds and flowers, will provide additional targeted phosphorus removal. Make it a priority to sweep surfaces adjacent to MS4 infiltration practices, if applicable. The Center for Watershed Protection recommends an optimal sweeper frequency of about twice between each runoff-producing rainfall event. The cities of Rochester, New York, and Rochester, MN, have more aggressive street sweeping programs focused on maximum water quality protection.
The City of Rochester, New York, has the following street sweeping schedule:
  • Early season sweeping begins in the spring, as sweepers clean the debris that accumulated during the winter months. The program runs roughly May through October.
  • Arterial streets are swept twice a week
  • Residential streets are swept every two weeks on a rotation cycle (to accommodate alternate side parking)
  • Streets in the central business district are swept daily
The City of Rochester, MN, includes the following in its SWPPP:
“The annual sweeping cycle usually begins in the spring. A full-city sweep is conducted to remove sediment and litter that have accumulated over the winter. Sweeping continues throughout the summer primarily to collect litter, but also to target known chronic problem areas, such as certain industrial areas or topographic areas that serve as sediment and debris collection points (e.g., the bottoms of hills). Due to the variety of tree species and density of trees, fall sweeping necessitates multiple cycles in multiple areas to collect leaves. When temperatures permit, sand is swept from streets during the winter months”.
In addition, the City’s street sweeping program includes sweeping the central business district twice per week with their single vacuum sweeper because it is more effective than their mechanical broom sweepers. After the grinding and milling phases of road rehabilitation projects, the City sweeps the area first with the mechanical sweeper and second by the vacuum sweeper to collect the residual coarse and fine material.
The City of Minneapolis focuses on its parkways and chain of lakes for additional sweeping above and beyond spring and fall sweeping. This program also accommodates additional sweeping in other areas as needs arise.
  • Access to curbs - Pollutants including leaves and debris tend to gather at the curb of streets and parking lots. Street sweepers must be able to access these areas in order to be effective. Consider methods to prevent cars from parking in areas where/ when street sweeping is to occur (e.g. temporary no-parking restrictions and signage on streets and surfaces scheduled for sweeping and coordination with local police to patrol designated routes).
  • Distance to storage and disposal facilities - Travel time to storage and disposal facilities can reduce the time spent sweeping streets. Consider options to reduce distances between facilities so that slow-moving street sweepers have faster access.
  • Staff training - Train operators and associated staff once a year on the importance of water quality, the pollution prevention capabilities of street sweeping and how to properly drive and maintain sweepers.

Maintenance considerations

The key maintenance issue for street sweeping programs is maintenance of the street sweepers. Street sweepers should be maintained to function at optimal efficiency and the vehicle fleet should be kept up to date with new technologies that improve pollutant removal (e.g. fine-grained particle pick-up). Installing an automatic greasing system on sweepers can decrease maintenance time and reduce wear on critical parts, which can keep the sweeper on the job longer with fewer unscheduled maintenance hassles. Maintaining surfaces through more frequent sweeping may reduce the frequency necessary for catch basin cleaning.

Typical cost

Staffing and equipment are the largest costs for street sweeping programs. Conventional street sweepers can range from $60,000 to $125,000, depending on the make, model and equipment enhancements. Prices can be as high as $180,000 for newer technologies. The average useful life is about four years, varying based on frequency of use. Cost savings can be seen by using equipment that can be converted to other uses. For example, the City of Jordan, MN, purchased a sweeper that converts to a sander and snowplow in the winter. Training for operators must be included in operation and maintenance budgets. Costs are small for parking restriction notifications/signage. Parking tickets are an effective reminder to obey parking restrictions and can be used as a source of revenue for the program.

This page was last edited on 23 January 2023, at 22:42.