Exemplary London clear up operation for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II

Large crowds inevitably mean big clean ups

Large scale public events inevitably require major clean-up operations. No matter how many litter and recycling bins are provided, the nature of large, high density crowds makes it inevitable that large amounts of refuse get abandoned randomly. Whether it is a music festival like Glastonbury, which hosted 210,000 people over 5 days in June 2022, or a one day only event, it means a big clean-up effort is required.

However, the funeral and the lying-in-state of Queen Elizabeth II was no ordinary event. With a worldwide TV audience measured in billions, the streets of the capital played host to an estimated 1 million people. Round the clock cleansing operations prepared the streets of central London for the first State Funeral since that of Winston Churchill in 1965. And it wasn’t just refuse that needed to be cleared up in the aftermath.

More than waste – dealing with sand, flowers and thoughtful tributes

To aid the 138 naval ratings involved in moving the late monarch’s coffin using the 123 year old Royal Navy State Funeral Gun Carriage, large amounts of sand needed to be laid along the procession route and cleaned up afterwards.

Including the short distance from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey before the ceremony, and then the procession from the Abbey to Wellington Arch afterwards, the entire 1.5 mile route was dusted with sand to enable the 2.5 ton gun carriage to move more easily.

The enormous amount of floral tributes left by ordinary mourners also had to be dealt with in a manner appropriate to the occasion. They were moved to sites in Green Park and then handed over to Royal Parks. They remained on view for up to 14 days after the funeral, depending on their level of deterioration, and were then removed to Kensington Gardens for composting after cards containing thousands of thoughtful tributes and packaging had been respectfully removed.

Waste management operation avoided unsightly distractions

It wasn’t just the day of the funeral where waste management operations went into overdrive, however. An estimated 7 tons of litter was removed from Southwark Park, one of the main areas used to queue the estimated 250,000 people who filed past the coffin in Westminster Hall during the 4 days of lying-in-state.

A key objective of the clean-up operators was to ensure all mourners had a safe and pleasant experience, maintaining the dignity and respecting the historical significance of the event.

More than 150 people and 19 vehicles in 11 teams were involved in the post procession clear up, with many more involved over the 10 days from the announcement of Queen Elizabeth’s death to her funeral. On the day of the funeral the street clean up commenced at 14.45 and was rapidly completed, allowing the roads to be reopened at 17.00, minimising traffic disruption.

All in all, the waste management efforts before, during and after the 10 day period of national mourning contributed to the success of a showpiece event before a watching world. The cleanliness of the built environment avoided any unsightly distractions to the pageantry, grandeur and solemnity of the occasion, which marked a unique moment of British history, unlikely to be surpassed in terms of its significance – the passing of the longest serving and probably most loved monarch over the course of a thousand years of British history.


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