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The Shifting Sands

Beverlyn Talan on Flickr

On the list of things you most likely think about everyday, I would bet that the world’s sand supply is not very high on that list. But who can blame you? It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. But it is also the third most consumed natural resource on the planet earth, right after air and water. With this in mind, what if I told you that we are running out of sand?

It is not just any sand we are running out of though. The sand we are talking about is the stuff that is used most often in construction when mixing concrete, the stuff that your school is most likely made of.

This type of sand is normally collected along the banks and beds of rivers, as well as in lakes and on the seashore. And through natural processes like erosion, these collection points are refilled over time. But because of the huge demand for it, these areas are being stripped of their sand.

While this may not sound too bad at first, these activities have already hurt coral reefs all over the world ranging from Florida to Kenya. It has also resulted in a lot of fishermen seeing their nets come up empty because the act of gathering the sand clouds the water so much that a lot of sea life can’t survive. Kind of like how your feet kick up dirty clouds when you walk in a river, but on a massive scale!

So it’s pretty easy to see some of the issues that come from our gathering of this kind of sand. But humans are if not anything else, great problem solvers. And the main way people are looking at solving this problem is through recycling!

There are two main camps when it comes to this approach so far.

The first idea sees the use of recycled plastics being crushed down and added to cement, reducing the amount of sand needed to make cement. Another related idea to this is that the same effect can be achieved by using shredded used tires, but this idea is still pretty early on, but could also help solve the issue we have with recycling used tires!

The second idea is one coming out of New Zealand (Aotearoa) where a beverage company is taking its used glass bottles to make sand. They have set up machines that you can put glass bottles into. These machines then grind up the bottles, vacuum away the bottle labels and leave you with a pile of high quality glass sand.

Even though these solutions are really cool, it is really important to remember that while these more sustainable ways of getting the sand we need for construction isn’t the end answer. We also need to make sure we change how we design buildings so they use less concrete, or find a more sustainable material to build with or this problem will just continue in the future. But that just means there is even more room for us to get creative!

Learn More

Sand Crisis


Sustainable Building


Building Design Facts




Sand Shortage


Global Sand Supply Shortage


Calculating Global Sand Demand


Replacement of Sand in Concrete


Alternatives to Using Sand in Construction


Alternatives to Sandbox Sand


7 Alternatives to Sandbox Sand


Using Plastic Waste to Solve Sand Shortage


Managing Sand


The World is Built on Sand


The Messy Business of Sand Mining


22 Uses of Sand


How Sand is Made