As urbanisation increases so does the demand for sand in construction, making it the most mined resource on earth. The result has been widespread ecological devastation, as riverbanks and waterways are stripped of their foundations.
With no population decline in sight, can sand mining be made sustainable? Demand for sand is high as rapid urbanisation in China and India has created a boom for the mining industry. Fuelled by this, illegal mining has grown, unnoticed and unchecked around the world, destroying ecosystems, waterways and beaches.
Though a seemingly plentiful resource, only certain kinds of sands are actually useful for construction purposes. Desert sand, for example, isn’t suitable for either construction or use as silicon due to its worn, rounded edges, so instead it is river banks and beaches that are being plundered.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that 85 percent of all mining activity in the world is sand or gravel. Since 1950 the number of people living in cities has quadrupled to reach 4bn, more than half of the global population.
Sand is predominantly used to make concrete to build the houses needed for burgeoning populations, but it is also used in glass and electronics. Last year China consumed enough to cover the entire state of New York an inch deep.
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