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.