sand depletion

Empty Hourglasses: Time is Running out for Sand

When you live in Florida, it’s difficult to believe that the fine white sand covering its pristine beaches is a resource that the world is running out of at an alarming rate. Sand seems so plentiful, especially when you live life surrounded by the resource, as if it is always replenishing itself, but it’s not. At least, it can’t do it fast enough to keep up with our ever-developing world. You might be confused, wondering “what do we use sand for, anyhow?”

According to an environmental report by Marius Dan Gavriletea, “sand is used as a main component in various construction materials such as cement, mortar, tile, brick, glass, adhesives, ceramics, etc.; and it has an important role in water filtration, in chemicals and metals processing and in the plastic industry.” It’s also used in the construction of various electronic devices such as cell phones and laptops. The average person probably has no clue the massive role sand plays in the modern world. Our lives, homes, and livelihoods are all built with sand. As such, it’s easy to imagine what would happen if the world ran out of the resource altogether.

Take a moment, and look outside your window. What do you see? Unless you live a life of complete seclusion in the middle of a forest, you probably see sidewalks, buildings, and streets (yes, asphalt is made with sand too) that are all made out of sand.

When you think about how much sand it took to build the developed world, the thought can be overwhelming and scary, and it should be. Sand is the second-most-used resource in the world after water. As the world’s population rate rises, so does the demand for residential buildings and commercial facilities, increasing sand depletion year by year. The world’s supply of sand simply cannot keep up with the demand. An intriguing smattering of questions arise as a result of this conundrum, some of which are “how will sand depletion affect construction?” and “can we stop it before it’s too late?”

We might be able to reduce the speed of sand depletion through several avenues. It seems that there may be at least three viable alternatives to using natural sand and gravel in concrete and other construction materials. However, no sand replacement option has been studied in full.

sand depletion

Copper Slag is a product of copper extraction that is black in color and similar in texture to natural sand. As a result, a study was conducted by researchers at the S.V .National Institute of Technology in India that tested copper slag’s effectiveness when mixed with powder cement. The researchers found that copper slag cannot entirely replace sand for concrete purposes; however, when the concrete mixture is made up of 40% copper slag, the concrete becomes stronger than regular concrete. After the 40% mark, the mixture weakens and becomes unusable.

Recycled Construction Waste is another intriguing substitution for sand being used in construction materials. This way of reducing sand use might be a solution that would allow builders to reuse old material and to not introduce new materials during the construction of new structures. Think of it this way: when a building demolition occurs, what happens to the crumbled concrete that’s left behind? What if we could use those old buildings to make new ones? According to a study conducted by SRM University, “we can conclude that whatever is destroyed can be reused in a more effective manner without causing any damage to the environment.” This statement is heartening, and may encourage scientists and governments to keep an eye out for recycled concrete’s uses.

Fly Ash may be another alternative to using sand in concrete and other building materials. What’s fly ash? Concrete Construction defines it asa byproduct from burning pulverized coal in electric power generating plants.” From that explanation, it sounds like fly ash is a plentiful resource for builders all over the world. In fact, concrete made from fly ash is actually stronger than normal concrete; however, its dry time is slower than its natural sand-made concrete counterpart. Even so, it seems that fly ash concrete may be a solid option for construction as natural sand becomes a non-viable resource for construction use.

sand depletion

Sand depletion doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. However, the topic is not one that many people talk about in the United States or China, two of the greatest users of sand in construction. In fact, if you asked most people on the street if they believed that sand was a nonrenewable resource, they’d probably just give you a blank stare. Most of the research regarding sand alternatives has actually occurred in India, a country that is suffering from the appearances of “sand mafias” as a result of the rapidly rising popularity of the sand trade. As a result, India has much to gain from sand alternatives, but so does the rest of the world.

Even though no sand alternative is perfect, each solution presents a way for us to reduce our usages of sand by a significant percentage. As more research is being conducted in the name of finding sand replacements in construction, we must advocate for widespread education regarding the topic and press our governmental leaders to take a look at the issue. Sand depletion is certainly a subject worthy of our attention. Perhaps in the future, some of these alternatives for sand will be common place in the construction field.