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Slowing the sands of time

by Paul Taylor, Managing Director, Azpects Limited

The global sand industry is running out of time, and the UK landscaping market needs to seek appropriate alternatives or see profits slip through the cracks.

Sand. Everybody in the world uses it every day. From the chips inside smart phones and the glass in our windowpanes, to the cement holding our homes together and the roads we take to work. It is the most-consumed natural resource on the planet besides water. In landscaping and construction we are probably more in contact with the raw material than in any other industry. And yet, this precious commodity is running out.

50 billion tonnes of aggregate are used every year, and global population growth, greater affluence and more urbanisation and development are driving large increases in international demand for materials and mineral resources including sand and other aggregates. As Pascal Peduzzi, a researcher with the United Nations Environment Programme, says, “We cannot extract 50 billion tonnes per year of any material without leading to massive impacts on the planet and thus on people’s lives.”

These impacts include not only the disappearance of riverbeds and shorelines worldwide, but an escalating trade in black market sand and increased sand piracy. The competition for sand has grown so intense that in places such as Africa, India and Latin America, criminal gangs have got into the trade, digging up valuable grains to sell on the black market.

However, awareness of the global sand crisis is escalating, and scientists worldwide are finding solutions to replace sand in concrete with other materials, including fly ash, the material left over by coal-fired power stations; shredded plastic; and even crushed oil palm shells and rice husks.

In the UK, these valuable primary aggregates are available in varying quantities in most parts of the country, and they form a critical part of our economy. However, in a typical year, we need around 250 million tonnes of aggregates in the UK, of which 28% (c.70Mt) is derived from recycled or secondary materials with the balance coming from primary sources quarried from the land or dredged from the seabed. Collectively, this is equivalent to four tonnes for every man, woman and child. Around 90% of all aggregates are used by the construction industry.

We will never be able to cut sand and aggregate use altogether. The construction and landscaping industry will always require them to build safely and keep rooves over the nation’s heads. However, where possible, we should seek to reduce our use of these primary resources and think outside the box when it comes to decreasing our dependence on aggregates.

Within the landscaping industry, Azpects Ltd has been working on a solution to the aggregate problem when creating outdoor living spaces such as patios, paths and driveways. Their new product, EASYClickBase, is a synthetic sub-base which replaces the traditional ‘dig-out’ part of the creation process, saving time, money and – importantly – aggregate. Early feedback suggests that for a 60m2 domestic vehicular driveway that would traditionally require the excavation of 15 tonnes of soil, and the import of 20-30 tonnes of sand and fine aggregates, EASYClickBase requires an excavation of around 2-4 tonnes and just 5 tonnes of replacement aggregate depending on site conditions. In addition, a number of early adopters have reported trimming at least one day of labour off the expected completion time.

These savings are great for landscapers’ pockets, as well as providing reassurance to customers who are becoming increasingly focused on the environmental impact of their outdoor living spaces. In addition, builders’ merchants supplying products that save time and money and reduce environmental impact will stand to benefit in a big way. In a recent webinar titled ‘Consumer Trends in a Post-Pandemic World’, trend analysts Scarlet Opus suggested the environmental movement has been brought forward 5+ years in consumers’ minds. This webinar also indicated that consumer budgets will be increasingly tight for 2021, following the high levels of job insecurity caused by the pandemic – so savings created by EASYClickBase that can be passed onto the consumer will make for a winning bid.

While we may never be able to completely halt the hourglass on the use of sand and aggregates, new innovations like EASYClickBase may help us slow the tide to a trickle for the landscaping industry.

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