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‘50 billion tons of sand used globally’

Experts have said there is need to manage sand extraction to avoid huge environmental impact. It said that about 50 billion tons of sand and gravel are used around the world every year.

The experts at the first round-table focusing on sand, organised by the United Nations Environment, Global Resources Information Database (GRID)- Geneva and the University of Geneva in 2018 said sand extraction from places with fragile ecosystems, if not managed correctly, can have huge environmental impact.

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“The experts at the roundtable agreed that extraction on a beach, for instance, not only leads to the destruction of local biodiversity but can also reduce the scope for tourism.

In a report on the website of UN Environment titled, “The Search for Sustainable Sand Extraction is Beginning’, said the huge demand for sand may also lead to illegal sand extraction which is becoming an issue in many places.

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“Fifty billion tons of sand and gravel are used around the world every year. This is the equivalent to a 35-metre-high by 35-metre-wide wall around the equator.

“Most sand goes into the production of cement for concrete (which is made of cement, water, sand and gravel). Cement, a key input into concrete, the most widely used construction material in the world, is a major source of greenhouse gases, and accounts for about eight per cent of carbon dioxide emissions, according to a recent Chatham House report,” the report said.

Various stakeholders from the industrial, environmental and academic sector came together in Geneva to discuss the emerging issue of sand extraction and solutions to address potential environmental impact.

“It is extraordinary that so little attention has been given to this problem,” says Bart Geenen, head of the freshwater programme at the World Wildlife Fund – Netherlands.

The experts said innovative solutions are being tested to replace sand in the construction of roads and buildings adding that  recycled plastic, earth, bamboo, wood, straw and other materials can be used as alternative building materials.

While there is no magic bullet, the Geneva meeting agreed that it is important to raise awareness of the fact that sand is not a limitless resource and that there are possible negative effects of sand extraction. Good practices must be shared and the communication gap between policymakers and consumers overcome.

The Geneva meeting concluded that the way forward is to collect more data, and to work on implementing policies and standards to protect delicate ecosystems from illegal and environmentally harmful sand extraction. The search for sustainable solutions should start now, the meeting concluded.


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