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The Superhero You Never See Sitting Still – Inside the Street Sweeping Business

By on April 11, 2016

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They come when no one is around. They weave in and out of cars and cross all the lines you aren’t supposed to cross. They pick up on what everyone else ignores. And they always leave no trace. They are the parking lot cleaners.

Ever pull into a grocery store or outlet parking lot and think, My this is a clean lot? Probably not, but by the end of this article, you just might. The parking lot sweeping business isn’t one many people know much about. You wouldn’t be at all alone if right now you were thinking, Wait, you mean there’s more than just a store employee with one of those trash grabbing sticks keeping the lots clean? Yes! There’s an entire business of dedicated drivers and sweeper trucks who come out when traffic is light and sweep parking lots just like they do the streets of your neighborhood.

There are 134,714 people employed in road and highway maintenance in the United States. It’s an industry that brings in $42 billion in revenue each year. More importantly, it’s an industry that does more than just improve the aesthetic value of our streets and parking lots.

Exterior cleanliness is considered to be just as important by many as interior cleanliness. We all like things to look neat. For store owners, having a tidy, well maintained store front and parking lot can be a boost for business. For shoppers and residents, having road and parking lot cleaning services means we can drive safely and better enjoy our outdoor environment. But what about for the environment?

One of the often overlooked benefits of the street and parking lot sweeping business is their contribution to the environment. More than just trash clean up, parking lot and street sweeping clears debris and other contaminants from our gutters and drains. In their most recent report, the National Water Quality Inventory stated that the leading cause of water quality impairment in surveyed estuaries was runoff from urbanized areas.

We’ve all been told not to wash oil or grease down the storm drain and to properly dispose of hazardous chemicals, but there’s more to environmental contamination than what meets the eye. Microscopic contaminants such as viruses and bacteria from poorly maintained septic systems also find their way into our storm drains and out to our oceans and reservoirs.
The good news is street sweeper trucks have the ability to pick up not only large pollutants that collect on the street but also microscopic ones that would slip off into our streams and oceans unnoticed otherwise. Modern sweepers include vacuums that can suck up debris instead of scooping or spreading it across the roads. Each year, the street and parking lot sweeping business can remove several tons of debris from our roads and parking areas. By keeping large and small debris off our roadways, street and parking lot sweepers prevent run off pollution from rainwater or melting snow. Without proper road clean up, those tons of debris and pollutants could be swept right into one of our most precious natural resources: our water.

Parking spaces are already a financial burden on society. Studies have shown that each year parking lot related pollution costs society $4 billion to $20 billion in environmental and health damage. That doesn’t take into account the pollution simultaneously occurring in our streets and neighborhoods. We should all be doing our part to keep our exterior environment clean – - it’s the only one we’ve got, after all. Some, like those employed in the street and parking lot sweeping business, do a little more than others.

We know it can be frustrating to get stuck behind a street sweeper on your way to work, or aggravating when they trundle by in the wee hours of the morning; but next time you find yourself getting irritated by a power sweeping vehicle, just remember what they do for us on a daily basis. Beyond improving the aesthetics of our streets and parking lots and improving business, the street and parking lot sweeping business truly is the environmental superhero of our roadways.

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