Construction experts, industry professionals and concrete production are familiar with the looming sand crisis hindering their sectors. Builders will experience diverse implications worldwide as sand becomes scarcer, and sustainable initiatives will attempt to mitigate these losses.
Alternative materials and business structures are only a few suggestions for overcoming these obstacles, but knowing the short- and long-term side effects will reveal the next best actions.
How the Sand Crisis Relates to Builders and Concrete
Urbanization and industrialization have pressured material manufacturers and producers to extract and ship as many resources as possible. Building a metropolis and developing rural areas are top priorities for many nations, increasing demand for concrete. Additionally, more industries require concrete than before, diversifying applications alongside a rising population.
Sand stores are disappearing despite vast deserts and beaches providing an illusion of security. Desert sand is too fine to employ in the concrete business, leaving industry professionals to look for more jagged, less-weathered silica sand. Over 50 billion tons disappear yearly worldwide. There are limited suitable environments to harvest sand, and current efforts are destroying riverbeds and coasts in the name of one of the most polluting materials in carbon emissions.
Illegal activity only adds to the issue’s severity. Therefore, sustainable concrete must find a way to eliminate sand from its recipe. Builders everywhere will endure distressing consequences for not advancing the sector past environmentally damaging concrete methods.
So, what is the scale of the sand crisis? Sand use is projected to rise over 500% by 2060, which breaches unsustainable numbers. Apart from concrete using a vast amount of sand, other industries like glass and asphalt make situations more severe for construction and building professionals. Critical infrastructure like roads and buildings would only exist with diverse building materials. What are other implications for relevant workforces?
Builders will begin to notice the environmental impact of concrete production. This will manifest in the disappearance of coastal areas and waterways through erosion and destruction of aquatic ecosystems. The trickle effect of extracting too much sand from these areas displaces species, intensifies water scarcity and promotes groundwater depletion.
Sand provides an essential protective barrier to ecosystems. It breaks storms, preventing them from raging into buildings and habitats. Species of all kinds are more likely to feel the gravity of intense weather without sand as a shield. Even though 12.6 billion tons of sediment go back into the environment as usable stock, humans use sand three times faster than nature can return it.
Miners and harvesters exploiting these areas harm communities and livelihoods. It starts as an environmental concern and breaches into other aspects of life. For example, fisheries will need help finding healthy and plentiful fish, putting communities and economic stability at risk.
Farmers will need more efficient ways to irrigate water for their crops. Finally, public health concerns rise as water becomes polluted from mining equipment and fuels. Water sources become more challenging to treat and disperse to citizens.
Economic unrest rises as sand depletes. The rising cost of materials could impact builders’ schedules and livelihoods as construction and concrete construction businesses make cuts to maintain output. This may be reflected in their wages or unrealistic schedules for unfair salaries, as corporations attempt to maintain customer satisfaction.
Financial situations become complicated as sand sources run low and become inconsistent. Suppliers may not deliver the quantities required, delivering timeline delays instead of finished projects. The residual effects of an unfinished structure vary depending on how it could boost the community.
For example, a struggling, rural area obtains a massive supermarket or introduces a novel entertainment platform. Getting the place up and running as fast as possible could save the town and its people, with more flowing funds and job availability. Therefore, it is not always just the builder’s client feeling the weight of a pushed deadline. Meanwhile, prominent sand mafias arise, impacting economic and infrastructure progress in the name of organized crime.
The sand crisis may also impact jobs more tangibly. Disruptions to job stability will become more common as sand stores become more barren. Sand mining communities will face the criticisms of environmental advocates and strained corporations, leading to potential layoffs.
Ignoring concrete advancements and decarbonization leads to unproductive disruptions in builders’ workflows. Concrete’s dependability plummets without sand, making finding a replacement urgent. Resilient infrastructure is essential in a climate with increased natural disasters and threats. Humans endanger themselves without taking the initiative now to find substitutes, as buildings become more brittle without sand as a foundation.
Builders could notice a spike in construction failures as sand makes up less concrete. Blueprints may not develop as they look on the page without suitable sand access, resulting in numerous revisions to manipulate a build without anticipated materials.
Structural integrity reduces as workers improvise, work more with less-familiar materials and forge structures with a blend of non-homogenous parts. Will builders be able to warp double tees to the same degree, keeping structures free from flooding? Will steel or fiber-reinforced polymer reinforce it as effectively?
Mitigation Strategies and Alternatives
Academic research is trying to find alternatives to sand to make concrete as solid and reliable as it has always been. One proposition from Rice University relies on graphene because of its reinforcing properties, though it is coal-based. Common alternatives include broken-down rock, bottom ash, ore-sand and quarry dust.
Green sand acting as a carbon sink is another option for mitigating the climate crisis while reimagining what constitutes concrete.
However, sand abuse will not stop without legal institutions. Miners need frameworks and guidelines for responsible sand extraction or ban it entirely for a new sustainable concrete composition. Here are other actions regulatory agencies could take on behalf of the sand crisis, which will better builders’ lives:
- Implement circular economic practices
- Discover ways to reuse sand and concrete
- Find ways to survey, map and monitor vulnerable sand stores
- Enforce and audit for ethical sand management in corporations
- Invest in advanced concrete construction technologies and initiatives
- Promote material variances and encourage concrete recipe manipulation
- Advance manufactured sand
- Reduce the price of sand alternatives for competitiveness
- Instigate international cooperation
Builders face the most immediate consequences of ignoring the sand crisis, but the glass and silicon industries could be next. Electronics need sand just as much and face similar demand intensities. The outcomes are more expansive and brutal without mitigation and discovery of new strategies.
How the Sand Crisis Catalyzes Sustainable Concrete
Builders could feel the impacts of depleting sand environmentally, financially and technically without taking action. Their livelihoods are in jeopardy, but altering concrete and building operations pave the way for greener solutions. Private changes instigate policy alterations to promote new standards for forging and using concrete and other construction materials more responsibly.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine, an online publication that explores innovations in science and technology.