Although most of us, won't have heard about it, sand mining is fast becoming a very real global problem and, chances are, without proper regulation, it is only going to get worse.
It may seem hard to imagine, but sand and gravel are now the most extracted materials in the world surpassing that of #fossilfuels by weight yet, it is something that the vast majority of us don't even think about when we consider the environmental impact of our lives.
However, the unprecedented global growth in urban development has undoubtedly, led to sand becoming a highly sought after and much prized commodity...
To put the rate of global urban development into perspective, we should consider the fact that, China has used more cement in the past few years, than the USA used in the entire 20th century.
Today, China is the world's largest concrete producer and its biggest consumer and is showing no sign of slowing down, as President Xi Jinping continues with his anti-poverty drive that will see millions of Chinas poorest and most marginalised people from across the country being relocated into his new urban centres that are being developed everywhere.
Globally, some four billion of us are already living in towns and cities and according to the United Nations (UN), a further 2.5 billion of us are expected to become city dwellers by 2050.
As urbanisation continues, demand for sand, the key ingredient in concrete, asphalt and glass will not just increase, but will, lead to a surge in unregulated and unrestricted mining and this will undoubtedly have huge repercussions for people, place, and planet.
In 2000, China discovered just how damaging extensive sand extraction can be, when bridges along the mighty Yangtze river were undermined, chunks of riverbank collapsed and shipping ground to a halt.
The problem, like all the world’s problems, is that we do not take into consideration ‘cause and effect’ and this lack of vision and understanding now pose a very real threat to our future.
We need to look at how we mine, where we mine and stop, the very real practice of illegal mining, a problem that is not just posing a serious threat to the environment, but as illegal sand mining continues unchallenged, it actually threatens not just the livelihoods of the people who live in close proximity to many of the world's mightiest rivers, but life itself.
A recent study by the United Nations reported that mankind is now consuming more than 40 billion tonnes of sand a year, and that is more than double the amount of sediment that is being replenished naturally by the world’s rivers. And that is unsustainable.
Continued sand extraction alters rivers and affects coastal ecosystems, increases suspended sediment, causes erosion, threatens aquatic life and whilst many countries hide real extraction data, we know that the impact of sand mining wherever it is taking place in the world, is having huge repercussions on more than you may think.
For as the world's beaches, wetlands and shores shrink, life and livelihoods become vulnerable as communities become ever more susceptible to storm surges and flooding a matter that will only be exacerbated as sea levels continue to rise.
However, sand mining is not just a construction problem, for vast quantities of sand are required for land reclamation projects, beach re-nourishment programmes, gas and shale extraction and we cannot overlook our passion for all things electronic including our many glass screens!
Although there may be 33 deserts in the world, desert sand is not suitable for use in the construction industry as desert sand is shaped by the wind and the grains are too fine to be used as an effective binding agent, the best sand, is found on our river beds...
Unbelievably, Dubai has almost exhausted its local sand reserves and now imports sand from Australia...
Whilst, half the sand used for construction projects in Morocco, is thought to be mined illegally, and here, whole stretches of beach are diminishing.
Meanwhile, two-dozen Indonesian islands have, experts believe, completely disappeared since 2005!
And across India through Nepal and beyond, the financial gain from this illicit trade is actually creating a situation where people who oppose sand mining are being killed. It may seem inconceivable but illegal sand mining in India is so lucrative that even with Government constraints, illegal mining operations continue unabated.
These vast operations are run by the 'sand mafia' and they, are not just real, they are ruthless.
India is now the second-largest consumer of sand and this unprecedented growth in demand, is having an incalculable effect on the environment, and on already stressed water tables and this, is only adding to the recent water shortages that are affecting millions.
In a recent study carried out by the WWF, it stated, that sand mining is directly responsible for a 90% reduction in sediment levels across major Asian rivers and this loss, leaves all those that live along the river banks vulnerable to flooding, land loss, drinking water contamination and crop damage,
As we look to secure a sustainable future, we need to ensure that the construction industry adopts not just environmentally responsible construction practices, but innovate so they can reduce the impact that the unparalleled growth in urbanisation is having on the world, without adding any further pressure on the world's finite resources or the environment.
Tighter control over the volume of emissions and waste will also see better utilisation of industrial by-products and 'waste' including, for example, copper slag, a product that poses little risk to either our health or the environment.
But we also need to ensure that we salvage, reuse, repurpose and recycle existing materials, so we reduce the volume of materials we create and moreover waste.
Securing a sustainable future for mankind is not without its challenges, and key to our success, lies in our ability to change our mindset, so that we appreciate and value the reuse and repurposing of materials including brick and concrete, and learn to recycle precious commodities like metal and wood so that we reduce the impact we have on the world and adopt a new way of working that embraces the circular economy that is, a sustainable alternative to the traditional make, use, dispose linear economy.
If you want to find out more about the Sustainable Development Goals what they are, and why they matter, why not get in touch.