Located just south of Central Park in Manhattan, Times Square is one of the most iconic locales in the world. On New Year’s Eve, this symbolic center of New York City takes to the world stage in a 114-year-old tradition televised all over the world: the famous Times Square Ball Drop.
At precisely 11: 59 pm, the Waterford crystal paneled ball, weighing 11,875 lbs and backlit by pyrotechnic effects, begins its 1-minute descent from the roof of One Times Square to mark the end of one year and the beginning of the next.
Along with the ball, confetti also comes down like colorful rain on Times Square at the stroke of midnight. Vast amounts of it. A confetti master, working with a team of over 100 volunteers (called the confetti dispersal engineers) shower the gathered crowd with colorful bits of paper from the rooftop of eight Times Square buildings.
Each piece of this custom confetti is larger than the average sort you’d find at a party supply store. This creates a magical, densely packed atmosphere. But, like any party thrown on such a grand scale, the end of the event leaves a lot of debris. This raises the question: who cleans up after News Year’s Eve at Times Square? And how?
Here’s a breakdown of the amazing clean-up drive, undertaken by the New York Department of Sanitation (DSNY), that is no less of a feat than the event itself:
The sanitation department covers five blocks running east to west (5th Avenue – 9th Avenue) and 26 blocks running north to south (59th Street to 34th Street). The area of approximately 0.87 square miles is divided up into seven sections for clean-up purposes.
Several hours before the event, the DSNY mobilizes into action. They work alongside police officers, armed counterterrorism units, and bomb-sniffing dogs to clear the area of potential security threats.
- Following incidents of truck-driving attacks in Germany and France, large 20-ton sanitation trucks, loaded with 15 tons of sand, are now deployed around Times Square.
- Newspaper machines and trash cans are removed as a preemptive measure against any concealed threats (such as explosives) where the crowds will gather. Manholes are also sealed shut.
Post-Party Clean Up
Manhattan’s cold December weather typically clears out the crowd quickly after the ball drops.
As the revelers begin to disperse, another group converges on the site. The DSNY crew return Times Square to its pristine condition within seven hours.
The cleaning unit consists of garbage trucks, pickup trucks, rack trucks, street sweepers, utility vehicles, leaf blowers, brooms and shovels, operated by a team of about 200 trash collectors from the sanitation department.
The job at hand is to remove approximately 100,000 lbs of confetti. This plus an assortment of banners, balloons, whistles, noisemakers, top hats, costumes, and other party trash make up about 65 tons of debris. This debris now covers the streets.
But how are such large quantities of flying confetti shored up and removed so efficiently? The procedure is this: push every last piece of colorful debris from the building line and onto the curb.
Leaf blowers and Haulster utility vehicles with squeegee attachments pile the trash from the curb into the street. The cleaning crew picks up larger objects. Street sweepers and mechanical brooms make continuous passes over the same area until every last piece of confetti has been collected.
By 7 am, the streets look completely clean. But this was only the first leg of the clean-up project. The sanitation department later has to tackle a second wave of confetti by January 2. This is confetti that blows off rooftops and settles on the streets after the initial clean up.
It’s a fascinating enterprise. The speed of the operation astonishes visitors from all over the world, celebrating New Year’s at Times Square. But having done this year after year, the DSNY now has the massive clean-up drive down to an art.
By 7am on January 1, when morning traffic hits Times Square, the streets look no different from any other day.
* 2020 was the first year since its inception in 1907 that no public celebrations took place at Times Square.