SXSW Trash Control Gets a Boost
South by Southwest brings a lot of people to the city, and those people bring a lot of garbage to the streets. This year the city is working harder than ever to put trash in its place.
At three o’clock in the morning when all the bars have closed and people are stumbling back to their beds, Martin Mendoza’s day is just getting started.
“We put like 35 extra dumpsters, and there’s still piles of trash on the ground,” said Mendoza. He works for Waste Management, a company contracted by the city to clean up garbage from the alleys downtown.
This year, the city of Austin is spending 60 percent more on trash collection than it did during last year’s South by Southwest. The tab will come out to $122,000. And that’s mainly because the city is trying to cover the festival’s growing footprint.
“The East Austin area is actually our biggest addition to the South by Southwest effort,” said Jessica King, a division manager at Austin Resource Recovery. “We have not traditionally been in the East Austin area. And with South by expanding into that area, we have to respond.”
King says that last year the city collected trash three hours a day during SXSW. This year, that’ll be 23 hours. Extra trash cans, 180 of them, are spread out across the Central Business District and the downtown east side to Comal Street. Crews are emptying dumpsters twice a day instead of just once.
“We ramp up pretty significantly to maintain the cleanliness of downtown,” King said.
Event promoters were also required to step up their sanitation efforts this year. Don Pitts with the city’s Music Office says the city is enforcing tougher standards with permits.
“I think last year we saw in East Austin a lot of lack of planning for trash removal, lack of porta-potties and stuff at events” Pitts said. “This year, we just made sure that was mandatory.”
Pitts says having enough trash cans and portable toilets has an important effect on crowd psychology, and is one of the many factors that can help prevent alcohol-fueled crowds from getting out of control.
Paula Allen is the general manager of Austin Outhouse, one of the largest providers of porta-potties in the city. At her facility in far East Austin, there are normally hundreds of portable toilets lined up side by side in a parking lot. But this week, most of them are deployed at event spaces in Austin, and her business is up 15 percent.
“We typically recommend one toilet per 50 to 60 people in the crowd,” Allen said. “That will keep your people comfortable. Some people recommend toilets, one per 70 in the crowd, and I’m not a fan of that because you wind up with long lines and unhappy people.”
The people who collect trash were recognized this year: The film Trash Dance is a documentary about choreographer Allison Orr and the dance performance she created using Austin’s sanitation workers and their equipment. The movie was awarded a special jury recognition award at the SXSW Film Awards.