FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Spread it over ice and snow, and it prevents accidents. Once everything melts, however, what happens to road sand'

Well, most often street-sweepers collect it, and the material ends up in the landfill.

It's a costly proposition to buy and dispose of the stuff.

To keep Fort Lewis streets safe during the holiday storms, the Directorate of Public Works broadcast 1,000 tons of sand. Jerry Elmer, supervisor of Roads and Grounds for DPW, said it now could take 2 1/2 to 3 months to clear it away.

"It is a lengthy process," Elmer said. This year, the process will change.

Instead of dumping the sand, DPW will turn it over to contractor LeMay, Inc., which will haul it to Earth Works on North Fort. There, the sand will be screened for reuse on the Fort Lewis roads.

"The ... sand you drove on this storm might be the same sand you'll drive on the next storm," said Gary Groves, LeMay's director of military operations.

Because the sand costs $11 to $12 a ton to buy, and waste placed in a landfill costs $161 a ton, recycling makes perfect sense, financially.

"When you think about it, a lot of that stuff just gets pushed to the side," said Ron Norton, Fort Lewis Solid Waste and Recycling Program manager. "And it's still a very reusable product that we won't have to buy again next year."

"I feel good about it," Elmer said. "It should save us a bunch of money."

Elmer added that he had thought about recycling sand in past years.

"There was an environmental issue with it," said Elmer, adding that the hurdle has been cleared. "They found that it was all right to start doing it."

Earth Works solves the problem by screening the sand.

"We get out all the trash," Norton said. "Then we put it back into service. It was as simple as that.

"So we avoid the cost of landfilling it and then buying some more in the future."

Norton looked into recycling road sand after hearing that Seattle was doing the same thing.

"I said, 'Man, why don't we just do that here, too''" Norton said. "Just a couple of phone calls - that's all it took, and then good support. It's one thing to have an idea; it's another thing to have the support. The (DPW) roads guys and LeMay really supported us on that. So we made it happen."

"We always collaborate on different ideas," Groves said.

Norton said there's never a shortage of brainstorming about what to recycle next at Fort Lewis.

"If you name it, we've got a thought process going on it," Norton said. "It's just a matter of finding a home for it, because just about everything out there is recyclable."

Bob Reinert is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16