Sometimes, things that are abundant on Earth are also scarce in nature. Humans have to put in a lot of effort to find them in their purest form. The first of such things was water, and now, it's sand. Yep, you read that right!
Despite the Earth being abundant in deserts and beaches, there’s an ongoing sand shortage on a global level. And like most environment-related issues, the credit for this too goes to the construction and manufacturing industries. The construction sector alone uses 40-50 billion tons of sand annually, and it doesn't use just any kind of sand; it dredges sand from rivers!
While taking sand from rivers might sound logical, the problem with that approach is that the dredging of rivers causes damage to the environment, which is why the activity is banned in many countries. Though the ban doesn't impact every location, it affects countries like China and India which are undergoing a construction boom right now.
In such a situation, what should these countries do? Should they stop using sand or find its replacement? Here's what experts say.
Plastic is the new sand!
Many experts suggest that construction companies should use technology to find a replacement for sand. According to Cambridge University lecturer in concrete structures, Dr. John Orr, plastic can help cope with the sand shortage. He believes plastic can be cleaned, shredded, crushed, and used in place of sand in constructing concrete structures.
Speaking about the price of sand in India, he agreed that it has skyrocketed. He pointed out that India dumps approximately 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste daily. If it used this waste in its construction sector, it could profit a lot. He continued that up to 10% of sand can be replaced by plastic in concrete without impacting its strength. Unlike sand, plastic will not stick to the cement, so only 10% can be used in making the mixture. From a cost perspective too, using plastic will be cheaper. Plus, for India, it'll save 820 million tonnes of sand annually.
A better option
Even though plastic could end the sand crunch, Dr. Orr and other experts warned against using it too much. They advised engineers to make changes in the building design for a long-lasting effect.
Dr. Orr said that many times, structures are over-designed and use a lot of concrete to build. If architects design buildings smartly, they could save 30-50% of the needed concrete. Vince Beiser, author of The World in a Grain, agreed with Dr. Orr. He said several changes are happening in the construction industry, but they're not enough to make a big impact. Beiser suggested that if we could create sand sustainably, it could change the world for good.