Despite what many people believe, sand is not a renewable resource. As a fact, it takes a whole geological era for it to generate in significant quantities and as the demand for it is constantly growing, we are facing a proper sand shortage crisis.
Photo Source: The Limited Times
Sand is the Skeleton of Urbanization
To better understand why we are running short of sand, it is necessary to point out that the great amount of desert sand existing, is not suitable for edification and construction due to its thin and smooth texture. The most requested sand, instead, is the one belonging to rivers, lakes, and beaches, which makes up only less than 1% of the terrain existing on the planet. This particular kind of sand has become essential for our civilized society, leading us to use 55 Billion tons of it per year, making sand the third most exploited resource after air and water.
Without it, the asphalt on our roads would not exist, nor the concrete that holds up millions of buildings. The same is for dams, wine glasses, toothpaste, satellites, cell phones, cars, windows, and the list goes on. It is, therefore, the expansion of cities that leads to a growth in sand demand.
Ironically, sand is also used to build solar panels and wind turbines, the use of which is supposed to reduce energy consumption and thus the pollution that leads temperatures to rise, oceans to rise and beaches to be consumed.
Glass is a model for circular economy
Giving a second life to building materials can trigger the virtuous process of circular economy, which is the only one capable of saving energy and natural raw material. Glass can be potentially recycled infinite times as, during the recycling process, it does not alter its physical and chemical characteristics, and, thus, it does not lose any mass or its qualities. When glass objects, such as bottles, containers, lenses, and decorative items, become waste the process can be reversed and the material reused. The year 2022, in fact, has been declared by the UN as the “International Year of Glass”, with the aim to underline the technological, scientific, economic, environmental, historical, and artistic role of glass in our society.
Startups and innovative projects
“Beer Bottle Sand”: from empty beer bottles to sand in a few seconds
DB Breweries has built several machines capable of pulverizing the empty bottles and turning them into sand to be used to replenish eroded beaches or to create artificial beaches. All it takes is to drink a beer bottle and deposit it empty in the machine, which, after extracting the plastic label with a vacuum system, uses miniature steel hammers to crush the bottle into 200 g of sand in just five seconds — meaning that with 500,000 beer bottles,100 tons of sand can be obtained. These machines were supplied to construction companies and business partners who built golf courses, drainage companies across New Zealand, and roading projects. Undoubtedly a great marketing strategy, other than a sustainable innovation technique.
“We created a way for people to drink with a purpose; saving the planet by doing what they love — drinking beer”
Building site made by using sand from empty bottles
Photos Source: Creativepool.com
Machine crushing beer glass to convert it into sand
Photo Source: Subic Bay Olongapo
“Spiagge di Vetro” — Glass Beaches
YES (Young Ecology Society)was founded in Italy by Mario Raimondi and Corinna Cannata, who invented an innovative machine called “Sbriciola” which collects glass scraps and bottle caps, and then shreds the glass with the goal of reinventing recycling and disposal methods, in a more sustainable way.
Alternative to Sand
Alternative materials to replace sand in the process leading to the creation of cement such as recycled plastic, bamboo, fly ash from waste incineration, foundry sand waste, coconuts, and wood are being tested. Further studies are also being made in trying to improve the technology that recovers and recycles sand from demolition materials.
However, construction does not have to use only concrete: many solid and efficient buildings use little or no of it and rather use fireproof wood, and even straw. Nonetheless, priority should be given to recycled concrete and, on this matter, Amsterdam is a great example: the Dutch city has decided to become 100 percent “circular” by 2050: all materials to be used on new construction sites will be recycled from old construction.
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