They are as different as the events they watch, yet they all have something in common. Whether they are the gaudy exhibitionists partaking in Mardi Gras revelry, beer-swilling "good ol' boys" rollicking at a NASCAR stock car race, or Green Bay Packer fans grilling bratwurst outside Lambeau Field on a blustery Wisconsin afternoon, all generate lots of garbage.

The proper collection and disposal of that waste pose a challenge to cities and counties and demands nothing less than meticulous planning. If the right number of people, trucks and garbage containers is not a part of the equation, and if things are not properly coordinated, conditions could get stinky in a hurry.

Planning and execution Through proper planning, efficient allocation of resources and the benefit of past experience, many cities have successfully handled waste collection and disposal at major events. Mardi Gras, New Orleans' annual 12-day pre-Lenten celebration that boasts 21 parades and motley events, illustrates the point.

"Special events for us are an opportunity to show what our (employees) do so well," says Sharon Carr Harrington, sanitation director for New Orleans. The department has 100 employees, only 30 of whom are directly involved in cleanup during the festival. However, employees from other departments, including Police, Public Works and Recreation, help out, as do some private sector workers.

The city handles much of the Mardi Gras cleanup on its own. Houston-based Browning Ferris Industries (BFI), which regularly sweeps streets in New Orleans, also performs that task during the festival. Additionally, the company, which provides the city's curbside recycling throughout the year, helps out with recycling festival waste. Some Mardi Gras trash is taken to a transfer station owned by Houston-based Waste Management; the remainder goes to a city-owned transfer station.

Mardi Gras cleanup requires 11 garbage trucks, seven dump trucks, four water trucks and two sweepers, all from the city; and nine sweepers from BFI. When the parades are going on, Harrington's crews literally tag along on the sticky, littered streets, rakes and broomsin hand.

Sweepers, water trucks and dump trucks, augmented by workers on foot who handpick the leftovers, generally have gotten their routine down better than the marching bands they follow. They do not have long to pick up the mess, since another parade usually will follow hours later. Indeed, some days see a flurry of parades - four or five in a row, or even two at once. "We think the key is staying on top of it, not letting (trash) lie around until the next day," Harrington says.

Timing and execution are crucial. Too long a lag between the end of the parade and the first of the cleanup crew, and the street will be awash in humanity. "During Mardi Gras, crowd control is a major issue for us," Harrington says. Consequently, five or six police officers accompany Department of Sanitation workers as they make the rounds.

The fact that the party zone is spread out across both sides of the Mississippi River poses a further challenge to sanitation crews. Moreover, French Quarter streets are narrow and have little setback between the curb and front doorsteps of buildings.

During the most recent Mardi Gras, the city collected 847 tons of debris on parade routes and in the French Quarter. Among the items discarded along the parade route were 10 portable toilets, six full-size toilet seats, lingerie, couches, chairs, tires, barbecue equipment and coolers.

While spectators eat, drink and get merry, often dropping their food wrappers and containers on the ground, parade participants toss out a shower of confetti, beads, dolls, giant plastic combs and other trinkets. That in itself creates a river of litter, and the boxes in which those items originally were packed compound the problem.

"With 30 floats, 15 marching bands and all of the vehicles, they create this mountain of cardboard boxes that in the past has taken two or three hours to clean up," Harrington says. However, the city has discovered that a little prevention can go a long way.

In recent years, New Orleans and private sector officials have met in advance with organizations taking part in the parades to encourage them to break down the boxes and place them in a designated area. Recycling receptacles are set up along the parade route, which is up to 6 miles long for the major parades, and volunteers help with collection. The city recycled 18 tons of cardboard during Mardi Gras 1998.

Crowd projection Estimating the crowd size is a crucial part of the planning process, officials say, but doing so accurately is not always possible. Savannah, Ga., for example, holds an annual St. Patrick's Day parade and festival which, depending on the weather and on which day of the week the parade takes place, may or may not draw huge crowds. "When it's held on a weekend, it tends to have much higher attendance," says City Manager Michael Brown. He says the city budgets about $120,000 for the event, much of which pays for overtime for sanitation, parks and street sweeping employees, as well as for police overtime and portable outdoor restrooms.

During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games projected crowd sizes and was "not far off," says Corin Clark, customer service manager with BFI, which provided about 80 percent of the commercial refuse collection during the Games. Unlike the World Series, the Super Bowl or Mardi Gras, the 1996 Summer Olympics did not have any similar predecessors. (The 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles comes closest, but differences in the two cities' layout and infrastructure, as well as how the venues were spread out, made for different planning considerations.) The Olympic Stadium, Olympic Village dormitories and Olympic Park were the major garbage pickup areas. "We did all of those [pickups] specifically in the nighttime hours," Clark says.

The firm also handled pickup at several venues in other Georgia cities such as Macon, Gainesville and Stone Mountain. "We billed by the hour for hauling charges," Clark says, citing the uncertainties of traffic and varied distances to landfills as primary reasons for the charges.

"There were quite a few variables," she explains. "The biggest was traffic - the access to venues and the time frame drivers would need to do their jobs." Fortunately, the traffic was not as big a problem as was feared, since many Atlantans worked from home, took vacations or used mass transit during the Games.

In addition to projecting crowd size and planning for traffic, arranging work schedules is crucial. "There is concern about employees operating heavy equipment in congested streets and crowds after 10 or 12 hours on the job," Harrington says.

Public-private teamwork In many instances - Super Bowls, for example - trash collection and disposal may be handled by private promoters, with various levels of municipal involvement. In Green Bay, Wis., where the National Football League's Packers sell out every game even if the weather is Arctic-like, cleaning up at city-owned Lambeau Field is always a major project. It also is one in which the public and private sectors work hand-in-hand.

About an hour after each game, the Department of Public Works (DPW) sweeps the parking lot, which typically is strewn with beer cans, bottles, miscellaneous paper and Styrofoam items left over from tailgate parties. Three street sweepers take about 3 or 4 hours to clean the 30-acre lot, says Operations Superintendent Dave Damro. The sweepers deposit their waste into dumpsters that are emptied by Waste Management.

Meanwhile, inside the stadium, locally based Promotion Management, Inc. (PMI), a marketing and management firm, cleans up. Starting an hour after the game ends, PMI generally works with four or five supervisors and 85 to 90 people - typically local high school students - who commit to cleaning up after one game and are paid $5 to $6 per hour for a guaranteed six hours.

The stadium has 60 rows of seats, with one worker taking each row. The remaining workers lay plastic collection barrels on their sides, garbage is swept into them, and they are emptied into two DPW compactor trucks at field level. "It's one big bowl. You just go right around the circle," says Clay Verheyen, building superintendent for PMI. The Packers pay PMI to clean out the stadium, and the city bills PMI for the truck drivers' labor and tipping costs at the nearby Brown County Landfill.

Educating the public Local governments may save themselves considerable trouble - not to mention money - by educating the public about recycling and the importance of not littering, well in advance of an event. "[New Orleans] does a pretty intense public education campaign right before Mardi Gras," Harrington says. Noting that other municipalities have called New Orleans asking for tips about cleanup during major events, she encourages information-sharing among municipalities.

She also lauds the benefits of organizational meetings several weeks before Mardi Gras. Such meetings offer an opportunity for the various agencies to coordinate their activities and to instruct new employees.

The NFL, in conjunction with cities hosting the Super Bowl, believes in the "ounce of prevention" theory. Along with municipal employees from host cities, the league has implemented recycling programs and a "litter-free" consumer education campaign to augment Super Bowl-related events. Recovery and distribution of leftover prepared food also has helped downsize the waste stream.

During Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego last January, the city of San Diego, the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Food Bank and other organizations joined together to reduce waste. Their efforts resulted in a total savings of $18,876 (generated through avoidance of waste hauling and tipping fees).

Dealing with the unexpected Most major events are planned months or even years in advance, and local governments are prepared to budget the money for solid waste cleanup and disposal. But some large-scale happenings cannot be anticipated when the local entity adopts its budget for the coming year.

A professional sports team winning a championship, for example, forces a city to come up with the money to clean up after a parade and rally. In Cincinnati, the Reds won baseball's World Series in 1990 and were feted with a giant parade.

No money had been budgeted for the cleanup, which was handled by department of sanitation workers, says Marcie Fox, an administrative assistant with the finance department. "I'm sure we absorbed that in our operational costs," she says.

Fox notes that, when the "Big Red Machine" regularly won divisional titles and played in several World Series during the 1970s, Cincinnati budgeted $250,000 per year in anticipation of celebrations. That money paid for police overtime as well as for solid waste cleanup.

Ensuring performance In some cities, officials have to deal with spontaneous, unstructured events that pop up with little or no warning. Albany, N.Y., for example, dealt several times with an influx of "Deadheads," avid fans of the Grateful Dead. "Those people tended to just want to camp out in the streets," recalls Richard Cogen, a partner in Albany-based Nixon, Hargrave, Devans & Doyle, LLP and a specialist in contracts covering solid waste pickup at major events. The city made sure that the operators of the Pepsi Arena, where the band played, and tour promoters would take responsibility for the cleanup, Cogen says.

Cogen says local governments relying on the private sector to handle part or all of a cleanup must protect themselves from possible nonperformance by the private entities. That includes ensuring that properly permitted vehicles and landfills are used, that sufficient containers and dumpsters are put in place, and that collection and hauling vehicles are sufficient in size and number.

Some kind of insurance provision also needs to be in place, he says, adding, "We've seen different techniques used for that." Those include performance bonds, letters of credit and escrow accounts into which a private promoter deposits money and from which a municipality may withdraw money without having to make a claim against a performance bond. Of all aspects of solid waste contracts between the public and private sectors, insurance is the most "heavily negotiated," Cogen says.

As New Orleans, Atlanta and Green Bay demonstrate, no two major events are alike - except for the trashy aftermath. Even if planners underestimate the crowd size or bad weather complicates the cleanup, officials say it always pays off to enlist the public's support and cooperation in advance, and to prepare employees with a detailed "game plan" before the action starts.

Recycling can mean much more than placing plastic, glass and aluminum containers into collection baskets. Portland Metro, the regional government in Portland, Ore., has demonstrated the broader sense of the word by renovating an old Sears store for the government's new headquarters.

When Metro needed additional office space in the early 1990s, it selected the 85-year-old department store building, which had been vacant for eight years. Metro's goal was to salvage and reuse materials whenever possible.

It succeeded, not only in using recycled paint, wallboard and other materials, but also in reusing the building's original structure, including the concrete foundation and metal "skeleton" of columns and beams. "When we were done with the demolition, all that was left were floors held up by columns," says Berit Stevenson, project manager for Metro. During the renovation, 77 percent of all waste was salvaged or recycled, diverting a total of 8,024 tons of construction material from the landfill. That saved $40,000 in landfill tipping costs, as well as landfill space. "There were tons and tons of construction debris that we found other uses for," Stevenson says. By salvaging much of the original building, Metro saved more than $2 million in demolition and construction costs, she adds.

The latex primer used throughout the building was recycled from waste paint collected at the regional household hazardous waste facility. Wallboard was produced locally from recycled gypsum; ceiling tiles were made from recycled newspapers; and floor tiles were constructed from recycled glass. Flooring in the fitness room came from recycled rubber tires, while foam insulation, restroom partitions and locker room benches all were made from recycled plastic. Much of the carpeting was recycled.

It would have cost an extra $5 million to retain the original brick exterior walls because of the need for expensive seismic modifications, Stevenson says. Instead, Metro used the bricks to cap the nearby, municipally owned St. John's Landfill, which was being closed.

Unlike most office buildings, in which the upper management occupies offices near windows and the remainder of employees are relegated to the center of the building, Metro designed its headquarters so rank-and-file employees would be situated around the perimeter, while a conference room and elevators were placed in the center. The layout maximizes use of sunlight.

Rows of columns every 25 feet were indicative of old-style architectural "inefficiencies," Stevenson says. However, only one of the columns was removed, and additional structural support was put in its place. Elsewhere, work stations were set up running north-to-south between the columns, with 50-foot-long, 5-foot-high hardwalls down the center.

To encourage recycling in the new facility, an existing mechanical shaft was converted into a paper recycling system, with separate chutes for white paper, colored paper and newsprint. Designated collection areas for other recyclables were built on each of the four floors.

The total project cost - $23 million - included structural renovation, $5 million spent to purchase the land on and around the building, furniture inside the building and a parking garage.

Keep Georgia Beautiful, the oldest state program affiliated with the national, nonprofit organization Keep America Beautiful (KAB), celebrates its 20th anniversary this month. A statewide bus tour was slated for Oct. 2-13, with stops in numerous communities for awards presentations, birthday cakes and recognition of exemplary local affiliates. In 1978, then-Gov. George Busbee issued an executive order creating Georgia Clean & Beautiful. (The name was changed a year ago.) "Our mission is to build and sustain constructive environmental behaviors resulting in a more beautiful Georgia," says Lynn Cobb, state manager of Keep Georgia Beautiful.

Keep Georgia Beautiful has 57 local affiliates, more than any other state. The affiliates vary in their structure and programs, but, generally, each is responsible for hiring a part-time local coordinator and garnering support from its local government.

This year, the Roberta, Ga., affiliate received $10,000 from Bibb County and $3,000 from the city of Roberta, which is located about 10 miles west of Macon. According to Joanne Hamlin, the affiliate's part-time coordinator, the affiliate relies on grants, such as the $75,000 grant it received last year from the Atlanta-based Georgia Environmental Assistance Authority, part of the state Department of Community Affairs, for much of its funding,

The grant money is being used to build a new recycling center, scheduled to open this fall. In addition to coordinating recycling, the organization is in charge of beautification and park cleanup, Hamlin says. In fact, the Roberta affiliate won the National Take Pride in America Award from KAB for its reclamation of an old railroad depot and track, which it turned into a new city park.

Another affiliate, Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful, was founded in 1974 as one of KAB's early pilot programs. It receives funding from the city of Macon and Bibb County. Recycling, beautification and litter pickup are its chief responsibilities, says Pat Robinson, coordinator.

Although Macon and Bibb County have had curbside pickup of recyclables since 1994, Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful still oversees four recycling dropoff sites for paper, cardboard, magazines and phone books. The organization also plans and coordinates Macon's Cherry Blossom Festival each March.

In suburban Atlanta, the city of Smyrna pays the $24,000-per-year salary for Ann Kirk, coordinator of the Keep Smyrna Beautiful Commission. The commission, which works on beautification projects, litter pickup, recycling and educational outreach, raised about $3,000 this year from recycling revenues and from selling memberships, Kirk says.

Local affiliates use educational materials such as coloring books, posters, informational packets and bumper stickers, and can access additional resources by visiting the state organization's web site (www.keepgeorgiabeautiful.org). The "Waste in Place" curriculum, for grades kindergarten through 6, is one of the major outreach efforts. The curriculum gives an overview of available solid waste options and features the "garbage pizza," which consists of slices made up of the major solid waste ingredients, such as aluminum, cardboard and lawn and garden waste. Each slice is sized to represent its proportion of the total solid waste stream.

So far, the campaign seems to be paying off. About 87 percent of Georgia's counties have recycling programs, and Georgia's overall recycling rate of 33 percent ranks it among the nation's top 10 states. "I think people want to do the right thing if they know what it is," Cobb says. "The frustration comes if they don't know the right thing and do not know how to find the information." She says getting the word out helped ensure the success of "Bring One for the Chipper," the statewide Christmas tree recycling program. Last year, program volunteers collected and recycled 334,841 Christmas trees at 285 sites.

Keep Georgia Beautiful works closely with the state departments of Natural Resources, Transportation and Public Safety, as well as with the private sector. During 1997, about 370,000 volunteers donated more than 2 million hours to the program. Staffed by three full-time employees, Keep Georgia Beautiful is part of the state Department of Community Affairs and operates on a $194,000 budget. Its emphasis on consumer education is an extension of the national organization's philosophy.

KAB was founded in the 1950s as a "cleanup" type organization, says Cobb, but it soon realized that changing attitudes - and behavior - could prevent littering. Instilling in individuals a greater sense of responsibility for enhancing their environment was a primary objective.

The Fergus Falls, Minn., waste-to-energy (WTE) plant uses nonrecyclable trash - typically a mixture of glass, metal, plastic, paper and organic materials - as a fuel source and supplements it with natural gas. Because those materials each burn at different heat levels, a key problem for the plant was accurately adjusting the fuel/air mixture to maintain proper burner temperatures without wasting fuel. The city realized that tighter controls on the system could improve efficiency and reduce energy consumption.

The WTE plant contains a pair of primary combustion chambers, each with an attached secondary combustion chamber. Previously, a mechanical baffle system of louvered inlet dampers was used to regulate draft fans, which controlled conditions inside the combustion chambers.

Garbage travels through the burn chambers, where it is dried and burned in the primary chamber. It then passes to the secondary chamber, where higher temperatures oxidize the remaining materials and gas.

Dissatisfied with the mechanical baffle system, the city sought a better method to manage the chamber conditions. However, city officials did not want to commit taxpayers' dollars to another system without first getting proof of savings.

With help from locally based Otter Tail Power, the city performed an analysis that plotted the fan motors' minute-by-minute energy consumption. The recorded data showed that the louver system caused dramatic swings in electrical demand. The fans ran 24 hours per day, even when the louvers were in a closed position and no additional air was needed; a phenomenon called "deadheading."

Engineers from the utility estimated that by deadheading the primary and secondary fans on the burner units, the city refuse burner wasted 27.5 horsepower annually, costing $9,000 in lost electricity. In addition, the fans were causing vibrations that were wearing down the circuit boards and sensors of the louver control.

After studying the WTE plant, the company recommended variable frequency drives (VFDs)

as a cost-effective and workable alternative to the louver system. VFDs convert alternating current to direct current, then switch it back into AC wave form, enabling the drive to adjust motor speeds. They also eliminate the louver system, controlling airflow by adjusting fan motor speed according to heat levels.

The utility prepared cost estimates for the VFD installation, an analysis of electricity savings and the projected payback period. The VFDs were installed and the louvers permanently opened. Operations monitoring then showed that electricity consumption dropped more than was expected; chamber temperatures were stabilized; refuse burned more completely; and maintenance costs went down. In fact, the VFDs have helped the city cut its electricity usage by 534,360 kilowatts per year and natural gas consumption by 63.8 percent.

Additional savings resulted from replacing the slow mechanical adjustment of the louvers, which had caused temperature fluctuation, air leaks into the chamber when the louvers were closed and over-aeration of the fuel mixture. The thinned fuel mixture, in turn, had triggered more natural gas to be fed into the system.

The total project cost was $13,000, and the utility provided a $9,762 rebate to the city from its energy conservation program. That rebate, in conjunction with the city's energy savings, meant that the equipment paid for itself in only 32 days.

York, Pa., population 50,000, has found a way to keep its downtown area cleaner with fewer employees and at less cost. Three years ago, the city entered into a lease-purchase arrangement for a Model 101-D sweeper from Montreal-based Madvac.

"It probably picks up what would usually take two or three people to pick up (using the "litter pick," a stick with a nail on the end)," says Mike Sweet, director of public services. "The operator likes using it, and when you like using a piece of machinery, you'll probably work faster and get more done."

Previously, the department used a combination of workers with litter picks and blowers. Garbage was put into piles that had to be shoveled into trucks and taken away.

Now, the sweeper operator, who mainly cleans curbs and sidewalks and two small downtown parks, fills up 10 to 15 55-gallon bags of trash per day in a two-square-mile area. The sweeper is operated five days per week, six hours per day.