SPRING HILL — The road looks like any other road.
And for two years, it has worked like any other road, bearing heavy loads carried by semitrailers en route to the county incinerator.
It would all be unremarkable, except that the road represents a first for Pasco County — and for the United States.
It's made of garbage.
Soon, Pasco County will build more of these roads made from garbage ash, thanks to a permit that's the first of its kind in the country.
Altogether, that means less trash taking up landfill space, cheaper materials for road-building and significant savings: about $100,000 saved per mile of road.
"I've been working 25 years in the industry, and it's pretty exciting, and it's time," said John Power, the county's solid waste director. "I've talked to some people in the industry, and they're quite excited about it. We just want to make sure we move forward and do it right."
Here's how it works.
The garbage is burned at an extremely hot temperature, then cooled, treated and strained.
The resulting ash can be used in three ways. It can replace lime rock, the typical material for a road base layer, which is then topped with asphalt to create a road. Or the ash can be mixed with concrete or asphalt to create the top layer of a road.
"We're pretty confident that you can do this in a manner that's beneficial from the recycling perspective and not pose a risk to human health and the environment," said Tim Townsend, professor of environmental engineering at the University of Florida.
Townsend and doctoral student Justin Roessler, among others at the university, have worked with the county for the last few years to develop a program to recycle the ash.
They have been tracking the test road since its implementation in May 2014. So far, so good, they said. The road hasn't affected groundwater or other facets of the environment. And it has been holding up well under heavy traffic.
Several other countries recycle ash into roads, but attempts in the United States have never quite gotten off the ground. Pasco County's permit, approved by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, is the first of its kind in the country.
Townsend praised Power's efforts in securing the permit.
"It took a little bit of courage to go out and make something happen that hasn't happened, truly, to any extent in the state of Florida yet," he said.
The team's efforts won them a first-place award — in the Going Green category — in the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council's Future of the Region Awards in late March.
Power said the next step is working with the county's road and bridge department to identify roads where the garbage ash process can be applied.
Meanwhile, the researchers will continue to monitor the test road for insights that will refine future road design.
County Administrator Michele Baker said she looks forward to seeing the process applied in future projects.
"By being able to reuse this ash product as part of road paving, that allows us to go full circle on the recycling stream," Baker said. "It really just completes the whole cycle of that reuse of the waste."
Contact Claire McNeill at [email protected] or (727)893-8321.