Thursday, August 29, 2019

Our Sandbox Is Becoming Smaller

Environmental & Science Education
Reduce Reuse Recycle
Edward Hessler

An alarming natural resource shortage looms. That resource may surprise you. Sand (and gravel). 
Mette Bendixen and two colleagues note in the journal Nature that "sand and gravel make up the most extracted group of materials, even exceeding fossil fuels." There are three main uses: concrete, glass and electronics. We live in a surround of them.

The authors point out that not all sand is the same. "Desert sand grains are too smooth to be useful, and most of the angular sand comes from rivers (less than 1% of the world's land)." The authors call attention to a surprising fact: Neither the total amount of sand nor how much is being mined is known. "For example, as of early 2019, (the authors) found that only 38 of 443 scientific papers on sand mining...quantified the amount of sand being extracted."

I was surprised to learn that "Illegal sand mining is rife in around 70 countries, and hundreds of people have reportedly been killed in battles over sand in the past decade in countries including India and Kenya, among them local citizens, police officers and government officials." We've heard of water wars but sand wars is not a common phrase to many of us.

The authors of this report "call on UNEP and World Trade Organization (WTO) to set up and oversee a global monitoring programme for sand resources." The authors identify seven components which are essential for sustainable sand extraction. Details are found in the essay.

--Source (e.g., searching for sustainable sources)
--Replace (e.g., greater use of alternatives)
--Reuse (e.g., use of demolition waste and rubble)
--Reduce (e.g., designing construction materials that use less sand)
--Govern (e.g., best practice guidelines, regulation of sand extraction)
--Educate (e.g., wide dissemination of information on issues and solutions)
--Monitor (e.g., global data sharing and quantification on sediment mining)

The relatively short essay includes more details, explanation and also a startling series of satellite images of a river in northern Bangladesh taken from 2010 to 2017 which "reveal the dramatic impact of sand extraction." The essay opens with a stunning photograph of a worker walking from the Lagos Lagoon, Nigeria with a huge basket of sand on his head. He works as a sea floor hand miner of sand. (My emphasis)

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