We forgot to count the grains of sand

Sand is the most used raw material after water. It is used everywhere – to build houses, roads, to produce glass or in cosmetics. A UN report warns of growing environmental problems caused by sand extraction and calls for an international framework for its use.

Do you buy consumables in glass jars and bottles rather than in plastic?

Average beer bottle can be reused ten times and then must be replaced. But is there going to be enough sand to make a new one? Worldwide 40 to 50 billion tonnes of sand are extracted every year. It will be 60 billion tonnes in 2030. With growing population and standard of living new buildings and infrastructure are booming. The biggest importer of sand is Singapore.

This city-state has increased its area by 20 % over the past 40 years to meet population growth – 24 Indonesian islands disappeared due to the construction. Sand extraction from river beds and banks affects water regulation. Lowering of water aquifers causes exacerbating drought occurrence and severity, while instability of river banks leads to increased flood frequency and intensity. Pollution and changes in pH levels caused by sand extraction negatively affect biodiversity. This adds to effects of coastal and marine extraction, which may locally lead to long-term erosion impacts. China and India lead in impacts of sand extraction.

Other developing countries of Southeast Asia and Africa exhibit similar trends. The solutions of UN are built on avoiding unnecessary natural sand consumption in construction by using new technologies and recycled materials. At the same time, reducing sand extraction impacts should be reached. However, in most countries proper legislation is completely missing.