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Scientists call for policy change to prevent sand from becoming extinct

Scientists have called for the adoption of more sustainable practices to prevent the world running out of sand.

The authors of a university research paper appealed for policy makers to consider the sustainability implications of vast global sand use. Among its recommendations are calls for policy change to reduce material use and strengthen markets for recycling construction and demolition waste.

The finite resource is heavily used in construction in everything from buildings, bridges and roads to windows. However, scientists at Michigan State University’s Centre for Systems Integration and Sustainability have become the latest to call for an end to the global use of sand.

Sustainable sand consumption

In a new research paper, it concluded the insatiable appetite for sand is harming the environment, accelerating climate change and causing social conflict.

“With this paper, we look forward towards what we need to do as a society if we want to promote a sustainable consumption on global sand resources,” said lead study author Aurora Torres.

“A drastic problem calls for drastic solutions — truly doing this differently to put aside problems and create pathways to sustainability,” she added.

Policy reforms

The paper said policy reforms are required to ensure global development needs are met without impacting on the planet’s natural resources. The study examined the “physical and socio-environmental dimensions of sand supply networks” in addition to sand extraction sites and processes.

With economists predicting demand for construction aggregate to increase over the next few decades the researchers said policy change is urgent.

“As with climate change, there is not a single solution but multiple entry points for more sustainable consumption,” Torres said.

She said improvements could include reducing material demand per capita and promoting compact urban development for more efficient material use. Plus, when mining natural deposits is necessary identify mining sources and methods that minimize the impact. Along with reducing reliance on natural deposits by developing the market for secondary materials such as construction and demolition waste.

Circular driven economy

The report highlighted the circular driven economy as a strong material efficiency strategy.

It stated: “With growing waste production and increasing constraints to mining natural aggregates, markets benefit from the increased availability of secondary aggregates shifting toward a more circular economy.

“Recycling technology for construction and demolition waste which is well developed, reduces both economic costs and the carbon footprint, especially for on-site material reuse.”

Recycling rates vary among countries. For example, from less than 10% to over 90% across the European Union, representing 10.6% of total aggregates production.

“Most efforts amount to downcycling, but there is potential for high-quality recycling schemes. The main obstacles are the variability of supply, distances to recycling facilities, the low cost of primary aggregates, and an underdeveloped market for recycled products.”

Construction demand

The UN estimates as much as 40 billion tonnes of sand is extracted and consumed globally per year in the construction industry. Demand has been fuelled by huge construction programmes in China and India. It has been reported China consumes more than half the world’s supply of concrete. Between 2011 and 2014 it used more concrete than the United States did in the entire 20th Century.

The scale of the crisis presents a significant sustainability challenge for the construction industry. Solutions exist, but they need to be embraced more widely to make a bigger impact and reduce the overuse of natural resources.

Sustainable construction solutions

At the Sheehan Group we remain committed to sustainable construction best practice and providing solutions to contractors. Our CDE wet processing plant produces high quality recycled sand and sharp sand. It works by recycling demolition and construction waste, saving it from landfill, and turning it into sand. This circular driven economy ensures we extract maximum value from resources where possible.

By using recycled sand in construction projects, you can become part of the solution to the climate emergency we need to resolve together. If you would like to chat about using recycled sand in your construction projects please contact us here.