“Pollution should never be the price of prosperity” – Al Gore. As the supreme species of the universe, we have not left any stone unturned to build ourselves a lavish lifestyle. Evolving through time, we have successfully converted our wants to our needs. We want it all, from wishing to stay at a great place to eat the best food to traveling worldwide and creating experiences. But we have hardly paused to wonder what could be the cost of our actions to the environment?
The numerous natural disasters and the recent pandemic have brought us a mirror to reflect on our actions. Though dedicated environmentalists and scientists have kept hinting at the carbon footprint we generate in our ecosystem; the bad times gave us many opportunities to reform what's wrong so far. Have we been able to learn from these mistakes? Only time will tell. Picking out one of the many harms we cause to the environment, let’s understand the impact of sand mining, why it is done and how it is a serious global environmental issue.
Sand is one of the important raw materials used in the line of building and construction. Since urban mobility is at a rising point, it is estimated that we mine about 50 metric tonnes of sand every year globally. Sand mining primarily implies the extraction of sand from anywhere; it could be an open pit, beaches, river beds, dunes, etc. About 85% of the extraction that happens has sand and other earthly materials. There is a huge demand for sand by the construction business and toothpaste and other businesses (sand is an ingredient in toothpaste). According to environmentalists, some mining operations cause irreparable damage to the ecosystem.
What is the Impact?
1. Corrodes River Bed
Since river sand has great quality and does not need much processing, it is preferred the most for businesses. However, with excess mining, rivers tend to change course, depleting the aquatic system within. Moreover, there is a marked negative impact on groundwater recharge.
2. Bank Erosion
Instream mining leads to bank erosion, thus losing the fisheries’ productivity and biodiversity. Angular grains and silica sand from river beds are used to make windows and screens for phones and laptops. Timber resources, fauna, and wildlife habitats in the riparian area visibly get damaged depending on the magnitude of mining and sedimentation.
3. Affects the Infrastructure
Sand mining exposes the buried pipelines, underground supporting structures and undermines bridges. Additionally, gravel mining also damages public and private properties.
4. Decreases Water Quality
Instream mining causes sedimentation and causes the disposition of certain particulates, which depletes the water quality. Moreover, oil spills during accidents of machinery and vehicles concern people who use water for domestic purposes.
How Severe is This?
Singapore is the largest sand importer in the world as it imports sand from Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and nearby Southeast Asian countries. While Singapore intends its land reclamation, it has already put a risk of about 17500 islands of Indonesia at extinction.
Sand mafias through illegal sand mining from prohibited areas have posed severe damage to the environment, thereby disturbing the ecological balance entirely. Illegal miners have altered a beautiful beach on Morocco’s Atlantic coast to a rocky landscape.
What Can We Do?
Although there are many regulations in place concerning sand sustainability, we still have to put forth innovative ideas to reduce this global environmental issue. According to extraction principles, sand removed should be in proportion to the replenishment rate and width of the river. It is more useful to mine from a braided channel than from a narrow channel. We can also research into how we can substitute sand with other particles like rock or stone powder etc. It is high time to rethink our building design architecture to reduce sand demand to a sustainability level.
Recycling infrastructure is another way to reduce sand consumption. For example, recycling concrete to use as a base for roads, converting glass into glass sand, and using it for multi-purposes. There could be many benefits to this:
1. No extraction machinery will keep a check on air pollution
2. No sand mining will help protect the river bed and shoreline; and
3. Reusing glass waste would reduce the amount of waste dumped at the landfill.
Research suggests that PET particles found in plastics could be used to replace sand in concrete. Although it cannot altogether replace sand, it can substitute a percent of it in the sand mixture.
While technology and innovation are some ways to address this global environmental issue, strong governance is an important aspect of mining. The existing regulation standards are not enough and require proper planning and management of practices. More so, inspection should be done to rule out any illegal practice of sand mining. We need to be optimistic about clean energy and the environment. It is important to conduct sand mining in a responsible manner hereon.
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