The 24-Hour Job of Keeping London Clean

Article excerpt

Byline: MARK HUGHES-MORGAN

HOW much do you think it costs to keep the City of Westminster clean?

pound sterling10 million a year? pound sterling15 million? Way off, I'm afraid.

The answer, for 2003-2004, will be pound sterling32 million. And when you stop to think about it, it is a massive undertaking: the responsibilities include everything from steaming chewing gum from the pavements of Regent Street to keeping the surrounds of the Houses of Parliament pristine; picking up bin bags in Soho 24 hours day to handwashing litter bins. It includes the discards from 35 million tourists and the collection of 225,914 tonnes of rubbish a year (for more mindboggling statistics, see below).

Which makes it all the more satisfying that Westminster has won this year's Britain's Cleanest City Award from the British Cleaning Council. "It is recognition for the unique way we have approached the challenge of keeping the city clean," says Peter Bevan, cleaning operations manager. "The key is that we encourage everyone to take a pride in their area and to become part of their 'village', not just to do their job."

To that end, Westminster is expanding its cleaning operation in the coming year and has struck a new deal, valued at pound sterling224 million over the next seven years, with its contractor Onyx to provide street cleaning, recycling and refuse collection for across Westminster.

So what does it take to keep Westminster pristine? We tagged along for a view of 24 hours in the cleaning life of Westminster.

Midnight: Chinatown The refuse collectors have already been on for two hours - the night shift runs from 10pm to 6am picking up the outtakes from the night's trade, but they collect in earnest between midnight and 4am.

Businesses are given half-hour slots within which to put out their rubbish which has to be in plastic bags rather than boxes - but that can still be a problem for "fluid waste".

"We have a problem with restaurant workers dragging overloaded bins and ripping them, which can put grease on the pavements and make them dangerous," says Bevan. So there might be some emergency mopping up called for from one of two new Aquazura scrubbing, vacuuming and degreasing machines. The five 25-tonne rubbish trucks collect on average twice a night, taking around 110 tonnes away between them.

3am: Charing Cross Road Nothing illustrates the demands of the planning involved in Westminster's cleaning routine like the litter bin cleaning schedule. All bins have to be washed every 10 weeks, including four washes by hand and two with a power wash. The job is done overnight by a roving team of two in a caged vehicle, who also sweep and pick up litter.

They travel light, however: all their sweepings are put into special bins dotted around the city for the refuse collectors to empty as they complete their rounds.

6am: Regent Street Dawn, and the two new chewing gum machines will be finishing their shift.

"Chewing gum is our own Forth Bridge," says Bevan. "We have calculated that by the time you have cleaned a 300-yard stretch of Oxford Street, you would have to start again."

Something like a third of a million pieces of gum can be on Oxford Street at any one time. Because the work requires intensive use of machines on the pavement, which clean them with hot water under pressure and destain the area, it is done overnight. And because it is so labour intensive, it limits how wide the coverage can be - basically limiting it to Oxford Street, Regent Street and a small area on their margins. Because the process is relatively noisy, it means that residential streets are off-limits. …