Old shoes. Beer and soda cans. A badly damaged iPhone.
You’d be amazed how much junk and other debris get mixed into the millions of pounds of sand placed on North Texas roads to improve traction during ice storms.
Traditionally, after the cold weather subsides, government agencies sweep up all the sand. But the recaptured dirty dirt can’t be used for much, and cities and other public entities often pay mightily for the privilege of dumping it in the nearest landfill.
Officials at the North Texas Tollway Authority have decided to try something new.
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The agency, which in May opened the Chisholm Trail Parkway toll road in Fort Worth, is trying a way to recycle about 3 million pounds of sand. And so far, it seems to be working quite well.
“Basically, what it contains is junk, debris, trash,” said Eric Hemphill, tollway authority maintenance director. “You can see raised pavement markings, wood chips. We’ve found hats, shoes, anything you can think of alongside the road. What we’ve done is stockpile it for a year, so we have about 3 million pounds of dirty sand that would normally go into a landfill because it’s contaminated.”
The authority opened a recycling operation in the shadow of Sam Rayburn Tollway, just west of Interstate 35E in Lewisville. There, a contractor who normally rents out his equipment for mulching operations is helping tollway officials clean their sand.
A giant cylindrical screen rotates rapidly, perhaps a bit like a chile-roasting machine after a harvest in Hatch, N.M. A bulldozer dumps in a load of degraded dirt, and the screen machine allows the pure sand to fall through its three-eighths-inch openings while capturing anything larger and tossing it onto a conveyor belt that deposits the junk into the back of a dump truck.
The sand is pretty much good as new, Hemphill said.
“It will make great sand for a multitude of uses, not only for snow and ice but also backfilling and filling holes,” he said.
The tollway authority is spending about $10,000 on the recycling operation but stands to save about $60,000 a year, he said.
Ben Grierson, owner of Acme Materials and Recycling in Plano, brought in the machinery to help the authority with its earthen experiment.
He thinks many cities and perhaps even state governments will watch to see how well the program works.
“We’ll see if a lot of other cities are interested,” he said, adding that fresh sand typically costs $16 a ton. That may not sound like much — unless your agency uses thousands of tons per year.