Sand is the foundation of human construction and a fundamental ingredient in concrete, asphalt, glass, and other building materials.
But sand, like other natural resources, is limited and its ungoverned extraction is driving erosion, flooding, the salination of aquifers, and the collapse of coastal defenses.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has partnered with Kenyan spoken word poet Beatrice Kariuki to shed light on the problems associated with sand mining, part of a wider push towards a zero-waste world.
“We must redouble our efforts to build a circular economy, and take rubble to build structures anew,” Kariuki says in a new video. “Because without new thinking, the sands of time will run out.”
Sand is the second-most used resource on Earth, after water. It is often dredged from rivers, dug up along coastlines, and mined. The 50 billion tonnes of sand thought to be extracted for construction every year is enough to build a nine-story wall around the planet.
A 2022 report from UNEP, titled Sand and Sustainability: 10 Strategic Recommendations to Avert a Crisis, found that sand extraction is rising about 6 percent annually, a rate it is called unsustainable. The study outlined the scale of the problem and the lack of governance, calling for sand to be “recognized as a strategic resource” and for “its extraction and use… to be rethought.”