Impending crisis in the construction sector as sand resources begin to run dry

SAND EXTRACTION: The over-exploitation causes devastating environmental damage

A NEW challenge has arisen in the property sector and its starting to worry construction businesses: the planet is running out of sand. The UN has already issued warnings about the over-exploitations of the second most consumed natural resource after water.

Every day, 18 kilos of sand are extracted per each inhabitant in the world. The figure is astonishing and the all-important resource can’t keep up with our building habits. What can the property sector do to stop the impending crisis?

Sand is the key raw material in the construction sector, but also in many others. It is vital for the construction of roads, shopping centres, offices and homes. It is also used for the glass in windows, car windshields and even mobile phone screens.

On average, to build a medium-sized house, 200 tonnes of sand need to be mixed with cement. For a small hospital, that would be another 3,000 tonnes and for just one kilometre of motorway, a massive 30,000 tonnes.

The average house is built with 200 tonnes of sand

The UN’s report ‘Sand and Sustainability’ leaves no room for doubt, sand is running out fast. The high demand for this material comes mainly from regions that do not have local sandbanks and the demand is expected to increase a further 5.5 per cent every year.

Using the sand from deserts isn’t a viable option as it differs in size and shape. Builders use the sand that is found in riverbeds, lakes and on the seashore.

The National Association of Aggregates Producers, Anefa, has assured that Spanish construction companies don’t face this problem and that the UN has generalised a problem that only occurs in some areas of the world.

However, the humble material is now a scarce resource in many places, even more demanded than fossil fuels. But its over-exploitation is causing devastating environmental effects such as destruction of natural habitats, the deterioration of the seabed and coral reefs and erosion. If the fast-paced rhythm of sand extraction continues, future generations will find themselves living in lunar style landscapes with rocky beaches, arid territories and the extinction of flora and fauna.

Investigators are working on new types of concrete based on ashes, crushed plastic or rice husks. But for the time being, there still isn’t a clear replacement that can be used in the ever-growing business of property and construction.