Sand is the foundation of human construction and a fundamental ingredient in concrete, asphalt, glass and other building materials.
But sand, like other natural resources, is limited and its ungoverned extraction is driving erosion, flooding, the salination of aquifers and the collapse of coastal defences.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has partnered with Kenyan spoken word poet Beatrice Kariuki to shed light on the problems associated with sand mining, part of a wider push towards a zero waste world.
“We must redouble our efforts to build a circular economy, and take rubble to build structures anew,” Kariuki says in a new video. “Because without new thinking, the sands of time will run out.”
Sand is the second-most used resource on Earth, after water. It is often dredged from rivers, dug up along coastlines and mined. The 50 billion tonnes of sand thought to be extracted for construction every year is enough to build a nine-storey wall around the planet.
A 2022 report from UNEP, titled Sand and Sustainability: 10 Strategic Recommendations to Avert a Crisis, found that sand extraction is rising about 6 per cent annually, a rate it called unsustainable. The study outlined the scale of the problem and the lack of governance, calling for sand to be “recognized as a strategic resource” and for “its extraction and use… to be rethought.”
The report builds on UNEP research from 2019 that found increasing demand for sand, which saw a three-fold growth over 20 years, had caused river pollution and flooding, while also shrinking aquifers and deepening droughts.
UNEP has identified solutions to the problems linked to sand mining, including the creation of legal frameworks for sand extraction. There is also a need to develop a circular economy for sand and other building materials, accurately map and monitor sand resources, and restore ecosystems damaged by sand mining.
Recycling construction material from demolition sites and using ore-sand from mine tailings are two simple ways to reduce the consumption of new sand, while contributing to global circular economy ambitions, the Sand and Sustainability report found.
To fight the pervasive impact of pollution on society, UNEP launched #BeatPollution, a strategy for rapid, large-scale and coordinated action against air, land and water pollution. The strategy highlights the impact of pollution on climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and human health. Through science-based messaging, the campaign showcases how transitioning to a pollution-free planet is vital for future generations.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).