Construction materials usually bring to mind lumber, concrete, and steel. Whether these products are accessible and sustainable affects infrastructure and the wider world. There is one commonly overlooked substance that has a big impact on the construction industry.


It’s sand, and it’s the second most consumed natural resource on Earth. Sand is constantly sought after because it’s a vital component in the creation of concrete, asphalt, glass, and other materials that are essential to modern life.

Categorized as “aggregate”, sand and gravel are collected from natural environments and used to create mixes for cement, sand and mortar, concrete brick and cinder block, and asphalt and tarmac. Aggregates are also processed and refined to create washed concrete sand, coarse builder’s sand, and silica sand. Silica sand is especially highly valued.


Sometimes called quartz sand or industrial sand, it is an essential element in the manufacture of glass, ceramic, and enamel, and in foundry applications.

When sand resources are in question, that means major problems for the construction industry, as well as manufacturing, electronics, and many other industries. Currently, a global sand shortage and the impact of sand extraction from beaches, riverbeds, lakes, and other natural sources are raising many flags.

What Is Concrete Sand?

Concrete sand is a coarse, large grit aggregate that’s blended with other particle materials and water to create pourable concrete or hot asphalt. Also called cement sand or pipe sand, it can be used as part of an aggregate blend or leveling medium for driveways, pavers, pools, patios, etc.

Most blends are comprised of limestone, calcium carbonate, chalk, silicon, aluminum, silica, clay, and other substances, which—when combined with water and permitted to harden—form a sturdy surface or function as a mortar or patching medium.

Credit: Peter Craven

Some concrete sand blends are formulated for specific applications. Like other types of building and construction mediums, the cost and availability of concrete sand are greatly affected by sand shortages.

What Can Be Done About Construction Sand Shortages?

Sand’s necessity for construction and booming infrastructure demands have created an urgent situation that is also increasingly complex and widespread. Although global sand extraction has tripled over the last two decades, many people are just becoming aware of the environmental impact and cost of depleting sand sources from coastal regions, riverbeds, lakes, and quarries.  The problem is being compounded by shrinking coastlines and increasing erosion caused by rising water levels and climate change.

But, as awareness is gradually increasing, sand conservation policies, revaluation of sand sources, and other sustainability measures are coming to focus. Since demand for construction resources is only expected to rise with urbanization and population growth, it may be necessary to rethink construction materials at their most basic.



Increased use of renewable and reclaimed materials, including recycled plastic brick and high-density timber composites, could help reduce concrete demand and still support residential and commercial construction needs.

Utilization of more urbanite, a material made from building rubble, could also help reduce the need for new cement. In large portions, urbanite can be used as slabs or brick. It can also be crushed to create gravel and particle material that’s similar to concrete sand. Producing urbanite on demolition sites can be highly cost-effective, as it’s often cheaper than transporting waste material to landfills.


Credit: Jim Bain

Additionally, a new recycling process could help offset sand extraction for concrete supplies. The process starts with discarded glass, which is crushed and extruded through a 3D printer. The result is a strong, easy to shape structural material that could be an alternative to conventional concrete brick.

The recycled glass concrete could bypass many of the shortcomings of recycled rubble and even standard cement. It’s more water-resistant, the required scrap glass is plentiful and easily obtained, and the fine silica-based particles allow for optimal density.

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