DeBlog: Can’t We Reuse Old Sandbags?

By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

It is by far the number one Good Question people are sending to us over the past couple weeks. Angela in Coon Rapids: “What do they do with sandbags after they’re done?” Mary in Red Wing: “Why can’t they reuse sandbags after flooding?” Janet in New Brighton: “Why don’t they store sandbags instead of making new ones each year?”

All good questions. The answers aren’t going to make you very happy.

Let’s start with Janet’s question: storing sandbags would take up an incredible amount of space. Plus, you’d need to store them indoors to protect them from the elements, so they continue to hold up well. If you get tears in the bags, that could be a problem. In Fargo they filled 2.5 million sandbags. That would take up an entire warehouse, plus you’d need to pay people to load them into trucks, then drive them to the right spot, and then put them in place. Too much space, too much time, too much money.

Irwin Jacobs told me he keeps about 15 million empty sandbags in a warehouse, and that took 50 truckloads to haul away.

Now, onto Angela and Mary’s questions. What happens to sandbags after the flood?

“Well it depends,” said Doug Neville, from Minnesota’s Department of Emergency Management. “If it’s dry, the sand can be reused,” he said.

So sandbags that don’t get wet get put into machines that rip the bag off, and sort out the sand. The sand then gets used for fill for sidewalks or playgrounds.

“If the sandbag is contaminated by flood water, there’s lots of nasty stuff in that water,” said Neville.

Think about what kind of stuff ends up in flood water. It’s disgusting. So those sandbags end up in a lined landfill for hazardous material.

Even though having volunteers fill sandbags seems like a crazy use of time, it’s more efficient and cost-effective than doing it any other way.

More from Jason DeRusha
  • Richard in Minneapolis

    “Think about what kind of stuff ends up in flood water. It’s disgusting. So those sandbags end up in a lined landfill for hazardous material.”

    What about all the disgusting stuff that was in water that didn’t soak into a sandbag? My guess is that as the waters receded, a lot of this ‘digusting stuff’ just settled onto and into the ground.

    • Jason DeRusha

      And so do you want to pick up those disgusting sandbags, haul them away, store them somewhere, and then bring them back out?

      • A better way?

        Jason- Someone has to pick them up and haul them away, right? So, bringing them back is the issue?

  • Justin

    No offense,

    But seriously this article is very poor. Did a horrible job explaining it, and was too vague… How about some real answers…
    and about the point saying it costs money to ship the bags out if they were stored, well you have to ship them anyways after you fill them in enclosed warehouses anyways so what’s the difference.

    • Jason DeRusha

      Generally, bags are not filled in enclosed warehouses. That’s done in extreme cases, like in Fargo. The storage issue is the main one there, which was addressed above.

  • Mike

    What a crock of cr@p. So a sandbag sits and flood water and it is contaiminated….but all the houses and land can be reused???? lol

    • water

      Actually the houses that get flooded have to have an intense cleaning. And they are taking out entire neighborhoods now that the area is considered a flood plain. Whcih also answers the question about letting people build in a flood plain – it wasn’t one when they built the home.
      Fargo fills sandbags inside because it si too cold to do it outdoors, the bags would freeze and not be flexible enough to be able to stack right. You would be surprised at how much colder it is up there and how much snow is on the ground. By filling them indoors they don’t have to do it in a panic running 24hrs a day.
      And slimy sandbags sitting in a warehouse for a year, then trying to use them? And the outcry over using tax dollars to store a bunch of sandbags in a warehouse when it is cheaper to fill new ones?

  • N

    It’s true. If you live near a flood plain, you shouldn’t eat food from flooded farm fields or if your garden has flooded. It is full of e coli and other bacteria from feces, run off from fertilizers, etc. I wouldn’t walk barefoot around a flooded zone either.

    • N?

      So I’m not supposed to eat food that has been grown by using fertilizer? Isn’t it an age old practice to use manure in fields to fertilize it?

  • ed

    I agree, fell short on this story.
    It’s a flood, everything is contaminated so why toss just the sand?
    Moving them around, the only difference is your moving pallets of old or your moving pallets of new.
    Their already in a bag so why do they need to be stored indoors, toss a tarp over them. should be able to find a open spot in N.D. to let them sit.

    • Jason DeRusha

      This is a blog entry, everyone… not a full-on story. Sorry if it fell short. So you think it makes sense to leave sandbags filled all the time in an open field somewhere? What about Liability issues? Who’s going to move them? Make sure they’re not stolen by homeowners?

      I’m not sure what you’re asking for when it comes to flood contamination. It’s all tossed. You can’t disinfect or clean sandbags. You can do that with clothes, basements, etc.

  • A better way?

    Isn’t there a better, more effecient way to try to hold back flood waters? We have such amazing technology, but we are still filling sandbags like frickin cavemen. There has to be some temporary floodwalls, or something to that effect that would be re-usable and more effecient. Am I missing something?

    • Jason DeRusha

      Who wants to pay for that? Reusable technology is more expensive. Volunteers filling sandbags is cheap.

      • A better way?

        Who wants to pay for the bags every year? and the sand? There is an expense that comes with that….you can have volunteers put up and take down a temporary barrier every year, but the expense is all up front, not a little every year.

  • lonesomedrifter

    It’s all about money and the deals the cities have with sand companies and the like. It’s a conspiracy. Think about it. Put up a concete barrier and get paid once. Do it every other year and get paid over and over.

    • Jason DeRusha

      Most people don’t want a concrete barrier. It’s about the appearance.

      • J Dog

        I would like to think that “most people” who don’t want that concrete barrier should rethink that… because i would be assuming that those “most people” are the ones living there. Those “most people” shouldn’t complain about a concrete wall that is going to save their town and home.

  • A better way?

    I’ll actually agree with Jason on this one…A concrete, premanent barrier wont work, it would look terrible and keep people from going to the river all year long.

  • Steph

    People who choose to build their homes and businesses close to a body of water are putting themselves at risk, its the nature of the beast. Its water, its going to do whatever it wants at whatever pace it wants. I feel absolutely no sympathy for people who knowingly build close to ANY body of water. Floods happen be it by storm, thawing, hurricane or whatever. If you don’t want water in your home build somewhere else!

  • sand-man

    I thought this pointed out a good point about having to use new ones each year. It makes sense to me, and I have wondered about this as soon as the stories come on the news about how many they need to fill. Once the sandbags get wet, the bag and sand are trash. Although, I would think there would be some storage somewhere for the good ones on the top layers at a military base, or DOT property that could be used the next year.

  • It isn't that easy

    If the bags are stored outside they freeze into a huge pile. They won’t work for building a dike. They have to either be stored inside in heated storage or placed right away.
    It is cheaper to fill them the times they need them than it is to pay heated storage. For permanent dikes, the recent floods have been so much higher than they were in the past, these neighborhoods weren’t at risk when the buildings were built. And when you have 20-40% of a city at risk of being flooded, you can say that they should just move somewhere else.
    Oh, and try to get the ND & MN legislatures to agree to a perm flood control plan and how to pay for it. Fargo & Moorhead have been trying since the floods of 97.

  • Doug Turner

    Ahh its more fun and exciting to address the symptom that fix the problem. Build levees, move the town something boring and “mean”. But ooh no – we need to have some excitement every year! Bring in the Youth Troops and support the motherland!

    Seriously – fix the problem, move the town – build permanent levees …. but lets get over it. Every year it floods – wow news flash…. And how much tax dollars continue to pour in to fix the symptom….

    • Jason DeRusha

      But where do you draw the line, Doug? People live near coastlines that erode. We live on mountainsides that have mudslides. We live on earthquake fault lines. We live in tornado alley. The government has been moving people out of flood plains – but we all live in some danger zone. This has been a very wet winter. It’s likely to not be like a “normal” flood.

      • gtVoyageur

        For the past two or three years people keep asking you the same questions about sandbags. Except for semi-permanent or permanent dike or bank walls where the sandbags become part of the landscape, sand bags should be tossed out for recycling purposes. It’s only common sense!

        Here’s hoping people keep watching “Good Question” to keep up with these perennial questions. Good Job Jason!

  • jeff

    Sheez-leave the poor guy alone….he was asked a question – what happens…and answered it. It’s not Jason’s faultif the system isn’t perfect.

  • me

    you should go to sand bags dot com and see how many HOURS sand bags are rated for. Normally, 250 hours of sunlight. So, a sand bag lasts for about one year before it becomes shredded plastic. Oh well.

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