"Basically, what we're doing is taking the material and returning it back to it's natural state," stated Phil Bresee, Broward's recycling manager.
Sand is a valuable commodity in South Florida, where beach related business generates more than $1 billion a year in Broward County. The sand that is used to replenish eroded beaches typically is dredged from the ocean floor and piped to the beaches. Almost 13 million tons have been dredged up since 1970 in Broward, enough to fill the Empire State Building more than 12 times.
Recent efforts for reef preservation have moved dredging further off shore and the fuel costs and construction costs are driving the costs of dredging even higher. The dredging operation in 1991 brought in 1.3 million tons of sand at a cost of approximately $9 million. A similar operation in 2005 brought in 2.6 million tons of sand at a cost of $45 million.
The solution that Broward county is considering may sound painful but it isn't. They are examining the use of recycled glass, crushed into tiny grains and mixed with regular sand, to fill the gaps caused by erosion. The county could only create about 15,600 tons of glass material each year, not enought to solve the sand shortage but certainly enought to add to what is used for quick patches.
The idea has grown from several locations where this has happened naturally. Beginning in 1949, garbage, including a lot of glass was dumped over a cliff into the ocean near Fort Bragg CA. Over the years, the glass broke up and was tumbled smooth by the surf action and the area is now known locally as Glass Beach. Another similar site in Hawaii has yeilded similar results. The island of Curacao and Lake Hood, New Zealand have both used recycled glass for their beaches.
"You talk about glass beach and people have images of sharp glass shards but it's not that way at all," stated Charles Finkl, marine biologist.The state of Florida and Broward County have already spent about $600,000 on tests and engineering and it is unclear how much right now, how much the program would cost or if it is even feasible. The county tested a small patch of glass sand on a dry patch of beach and used sensors to measure heat and moisture on it. They also have conducted laboratory tests that show that organisms and wildlife will thrive in it just as they do in natural sand. Broward County is awaiting a permit to test the glass sand in the surf zone.
There are those who are cautious though, pointing their fingers to other ideas that sounded good and were well intentioned in the past......... that now are a huge expense to clean up. Glass though, is a natural part of sand and unless it is found that it will melt in the baking suns of Florida and cool into a huge glass sheet overnight, I find it difficult to find much wrong with the idea. The fact that it may reduce waste, use glass that has been collected for recycling and may save the expense of dredging, along with the environmental issue of dredging the ocean floor...... I believe that it should be examined closely as a solution.