LAST YEAR, 6.7 million people strewed trash across 15 major cities at 77 events such as the Super Bowl, the US Open and the Midtown Music Festival in Atlanta. The Daytona 500, the largest single-day sporting event in the United States, created enough trash to equal the weight of the entire 43-car starting field.

With offices in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, Orlando, Fla.-based Cleanevent, which specializes in cleaning up after such large crowds, knows it takes a coordinated effort among waste companies to tackle the litter and keep the entertainment coming. Waste Management Inc. (WM), Houston, cleans up its share of major events, as well. In February, Cleanevent crews and WM trucks joined forces to tidy up during and after the Daytona 500, which drew 250,000 spectators. Unlike traditional competitors, however, the companies often work together.

For Cleanevent, the effort required an average of 200 workers per day for two weeks. The cleaners worked across 700 acres and 168,000 grandstand seats, picking up litter, dumping 3,000 trash cans, and scrubbing 110 restrooms. The debris left behind included paper, plastic bottles, outdoor grills, living room furniture, plastic swimming pools and a number of automobiles.

Planning for the cleanup began three months before the race. Company supervisors estimated the volume and type of waste that would likely litter the infield, merchandising areas, hospitality zones, concessions areas and camping fields. They scheduled round-the-clock work shifts at staggered times, so shifts would overlap when the trash storms rained the heaviest. Two to three dozen supervisors oversaw the work of 150 to 200 laborers each day. An additional 50 to 75 workers helped with the cleaning each night.

The Daytona 500 actually begins the day before the big race, with a series of night races at which 160,000 people leave trash at the Speedway. Overnight, Cleanevent picks up the trash and places everything where it is supposed to be. That requirement illustrates the high-pressure nature of event cleaning: “The public assembly industry presents a certain dynamic that requires a unique ‘no excuses’ approach,” Rogers says.

These days, major events come one right after another. While one WM unit was hauling away Daytona 500 trash, another WM contingent was finishing with Super Bowl XXXVIII, which kicked off in Houston a week before the Daytona 500.

Don Smith, WM's Houston Metropolitan District manager, organized the after-Super Bowl's cleanup, assembling his team approximately six months before the game. The company supplied about 30 people and hired another 30 temporary workers. Everyone assigned to the project underwent security background checks and received credentials with photographs.

During the next few months, managers met with the Super Bowl host committee and many of the contractors that would provide services and infrastructure for the event. “The vendors told us how many trash containers and toilets they would need in their areas,” Smith says.

The 2004 Super Bowl was actually three major events: the game itself; The NFL Experience, a memorabilia show and gaming experience held at the George R. Brown Convention Center; and The Main Event, a four-day open air party in downtown Houston.

Designed to accommodate 150,000 visitors per day, The Main Event proved the most labor-intensive effort on the Super Bowl schedule, Smith says. Waves of labor teams used blowers, brooms and shovels to sweep the streets and party areas from Thursday to Sunday. About 400 portable toilets were set out, and personnel were assigned to clean them regularly. The event used city trash containers plus several hundred litter-boxes and two-wheeled, 95-gallon carts for recyclable items.

At Reliant Stadium, where the game took place, WM equipment and personnel serviced a number of compounds, such as those used by the media, the MTV rehearsal and other contributing groups. Most of the compounds were locked down after hours, requiring WM to coordinate its work with security.

According to Smith, 428 tons of trash were collected during the four-day event. By comparison, the Los Angeles County Commerce Refuse-to-Energy Facility burns an average of 360 tons of trash per day and generates 10 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 20,000 Southern California homes.

That amount seems miniscule, however, to the trash that shows up at the Olympics. Since 1996, the Cleanevent International Group, based in Sydney, has handled three Olympics — in Atlanta, Sydney and Salt Lake City — and will do the same at the 2004 summer games in Athens.

The Athens cleanup will span 120 Olympic and Paralympic venues. The company will employ more than 2,500 people drawn from Greece, the European Union and the United Kingdom.

No one is sure how much trash the Athens Olympics will generate. During the 1996 Atlanta games, 13,000 metric tons of refuse were collected. Four years later, in Sydney, Olympic spectators threw out 9,000 tonnes. The trash from the Athens games may fall somewhere in the middle or go for a record. Whatever the final number, it will be a whole lot of trash.