In the summer of 2017, the United States closed its last sand mine. The closure is a reflection of a global sand shortage that’s so serious that some countries have banned its export. After water and air, sand is the natural resource humans use the most, especially in regard to construction. Sand is used in the cement in your building, the asphalt on which you drive, the glass in the windows you look out of, and the silicon chips in your cell phone.
The reason behind the shortage: the record-breaking construction of buildings and roads in emerging markets and around the world. The shortage is so severe that organized crime is beginning to control the sand industry in countries such as India, Italy, Kenya, Indonesia, Vietnam and China. By understanding the implications of this global crisis and taking action through asset recovery, demolition companies in Portland can help conserve a precious, limited resource.
Portland Demolition Contractors Examine Sand Shortages
Gravel and sand are the most-extracted materials on the planet. In addition to electronics and construction, sand is mined for shale gas extraction, land reclamation projects, and beach renewal programs.
In 2011 alone, countries around the world mined approximately 11 billion tons of sand for construction purposes. The Asia-Pacific region has the highest extraction rates, followed by Europe and North America. In the U.S., production increased by 24 percent from 2012 to 2017. It is important to note that inconsistent record-keeping in some countries may not reveal true extraction rates. Moreover, extraction rates don’t usually include sand used for non-construction purposes.
Implications of Sand Shortages
Because sand is simple to obtain, it’s difficult to regulate. Vietnam’s Ministry of Construction estimates the country will run out of sand by 2020 if demand continues to exceed reserves. This isn’t the only country facing sand-related hardships. What was once a local product now has an international trade value that has increased nearly six times in the last 25 years. The demand for sand has spurred the rise of organized crime groups illegally and international disputes.
In addition to affecting construction, the actions that led to sand shortages have had undesirable consequences on rivers and ecosystems. Mining increases the number of suspended sediments and leads to erosion. It has also been linked to rising sea levels.
Sand mining has also consequences on humans and animal species. Operations destroy or erode sand banks on which animals depend. Increased erosion places coastal communities at a greater risk for storm surges and floods. Studies, for instance, found that sand mining aggravated the impacts of the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. Researchers believe mining operations have also led to greater saltwater intrusion rates during the country’s dry season, affecting food and water security in the communities affected. Standing pools of water created by mining activities may play a role in the spread of some diseases and are new breeding grounds for mosquitoes carrying diseases.
The Effects of Sand Shortages on the Construction and Demolition Industry
The growing shortage of sand is a serious global issue with economic, environmental and sociopolitical implications. A symposium during the 2017 Dutch Design Week revealed that sand mining operations could deplete the amount of high-quality sand used in the glass industry—fine white silica—within a couple decades. The crisis not only threatens the glass industry, but also the concrete industry, which use about 25 billion tons of sand and gravel annually.
As the modern world expands, so does the need for sand. The problem: miners excavate sand faster than it can be renewed naturally. Furthermore, the creation of concrete requires a specific type of sand. Cities in sandy environments, such as Dubai, must import sand for its construction projects because desert sand reduces the strength of concrete. The grains are too fine, round and single sized. Concrete performs best when it has a mix of irregular grains of sand. However, the sand that’s ideal for concrete is often found in ecologically sensitive areas.
Because of the scarcity of sand, Portland demolition contractors will see jumps in the commodity’s value. As supplies dwindle, competition for the resource will continue to increase. The good news: many materials made of sand are recyclable.
Oregon Demolition Asset Recovery to Reduce the Use of Virgin Aggregate
Today’s sand crisis serves as a reminder that no resource is really unlimited.
About 80 percent of concrete is aggregate. Asphalt contains 94 percent aggregate. Transporting sand becomes uneconomical when trips are more than 60 miles.
Oregon demolition companies can do their part to help conserve sand through aggressive asset recovery. Demolition workers, for example, can salvage windows for reuse. The same is true for masonry products, like bricks. Crushing concrete produces aggregate that’s great for various applications, including the creation of new cement.
Conserving sand by using crushed concrete to create new aggregate not only helps reduce dependence on sand mining and lowers costs; it also uses less water and energy than the mining process. In São Paulo, Brazil, for example, concrete recycling helps reduce waste by up to 1,000 kilos per person annually. Concrete made of recycled aggregate is great for roads, walls, footings and interior floors. It’s also lighter than virgin aggregate, simpler to finish, sets faster, and has the same shrinkage properties as other concrete products.
Environmental concerns have a profound effect on the Oregon demolition industry. As sand becomes scarcer, concrete recycling efforts will continue to change concrete crushing technologies. With all the recycled products available for making concrete with crushed aggregate, its lifecycle benefits make it competitive with concrete made of virgin materials. Thanks to specialized concrete crushing equipment, crushed concrete aggregate can make concrete a continuously recycled material.
Contact Elder today about recycling the concrete on your site and helping the planet.