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  • Dear Readers!

    There is a political stalemate in Germany at the moment. With four of the six parties elected to Germany’s new Parliament failing to find a compromise so that they can form a government, the country’s political future – at the time we went to print – is more uncertain than ever. A so-called Jamaica coalition, which gets its name from the colours of the different parties: black for the two Conservative coalition partners CDU and CSU, yellow for the Liberals FDP, and green for the Bündnis90/Die Grünen (the colours of the Jamaican flag), would appear to no longer be an option after the parties’ exploratory talks broke down on 19 November. At the same time, the Social Democrats seem to be sticking to their decision not to form another ‘grand coalition’ with their Conservative counterparts. There are certainly some huge political hurdles to overcome. Whilst some would prefer more state control, others are looking to follow a more typically liberal course with greater freedom for businesses. The Green’s desire to speed up the move towards an energy sector without fossil fuels (including shutting down coal-fired power stations and getting rid of internal combustion engines earlier than planned) is proving to be an obstacle for those with more conservative political interests. And, whilst the Liberals are finally fighting to expand digital networks in rural areas, the Conservatives would appear to be merely paying digital lip service to this subject.

    And yet there is no time to lose. The economy is already going through a structural change as a result of the next industrial revolution and this revolution is both digital and electrical. It has come at a time when the world is facing the huge challenges of climate change and a growing number of environmental problems which, in the end, will make it difficult to meet the global population’s needs.

    Even sand – a substance we would seem to be surrounded by – is becoming scarce. And, once again, it is our industry that has come up with a solution. If we are to curb global warming, move away from fossil fuels and conserve our planet’s raw materials, then setting up a genuine circular economy must be at the very centre of a government’s policy. If Germany, a country with so few natural resources of its own, is to remain an important industrial location in the future as supplies of raw materials become ever scarcer, then the spotlight must be turned on recycling. Recycling must be at the forefront of everyone’s minds, especially of product designers. The foundations were created for this when the Packaging Law was introduced during the last legislative period as this lays down product responsibility and market-based measures to promote recycling. What is needed now is to transfer these standards so that they apply to all products.
     
    There is always much to celebrate at the end of the year. REMONDIS is, for example, celebrating sixty years of plastics recycling at RE PLANO and, of course, that you – our custom-ers, friends, partners and employees – have remained loyal to us throughout the year. Together, day by day, we can help make the world that little bit more sustainable.
     
    We would like to thank you for your great support and collab-oration over the last twelve months and wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and successful New Year.

    Yours

    Ludger Rethmann

A warning issued by the United Nations Environment Programme

We all have the same picture in our minds when we think of our world’s many beaches and deserts: miles and miles of sand stretching in every direction. In fact, around 35 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered in sand – and this area is getting bigger not smaller. So surely at least this raw material is in abundance? Unfortunately, however strange it may sound, it isn’t. So what is behind the latest bad tidings that supplies of this material are getting dangerously low – something that even the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is taking a closer look at? And more importantly: what can we do to turn the tide? 

  • Sand – the ‘Jack of all trades’

    Sand is not simply sand. On the contrary, there are many different types with each having its own individual properties. And it is these properties that determine how and when it can be used. Sand from rivers, lakes and seas is fractured, uneven and angular making it a suitable aggregate for the construction industry. In fact, this sector has the highest demand overall with two-thirds of concrete being made up of sand.

    Whilst we may indeed be surrounded by sand, the quantities of construction sand are becoming increasingly scarce.

    In contrast, desert sand is smooth and rounded as a result of being so exposed to the elements. This material is, therefore, not an option for the building sector as the cement would not be able to stick and the higher salt content reduces its half-life. And this is where the problem lies. Whilst we may indeed be surrounded by sand, the quantities of construction sand are becoming increasingly scarce. Sand is not only important for building roads, embankments and houses. It is used in well and drinking water filters, is the main material (quartz sand) for producing glass and is important for making toothpaste, detergents, paper and cosmetics. As it contains silicon, sand is needed for high-tech products and can be found in solar cells and computer chips. Being such a versatile raw material, sand truly is a ‘Jack of all trades’.

Building on sand

It is precisely because it is so versatile that sand is now the most overexploited raw material in the world after water. The main reason for this is the global building boom, in particular in Asia. China alone consumes around 60 percent of all sand and gravel mined around the globe. Within just three years, it has processed more sand than the USA in a whole century. Singapore, the smallest country in south-east Asia (in terms of surface area), is quite literally built on sand. This city state, whose population has tripled over the last 50 years, has increased its surface area by 20 percent since the beginning of the 70s by expanding its coastline with sand – and it plans to reclaim more land. Dubai began building its Palm Islands back in 2001 and has, to date, used around 640 million tonnes of sand and stone just for this project. This sand has not come from its own desert but has been imported from Australia. A lucrative business for Australia as it brings in around 5 billion dollars every year.

Sand is being mined regardless of the consequences

Germany primarily uses sand from the sea to protect its coastline, the most well-known example here being the Island of Sylt. Some countries, such as Cambodia, India, Indonesia and Morocco, have restricted or even banned the mining of sand but these regulations are, for the most part, completely ignored. Sand is simply being removed with no thought whatsoever about the long-term impact. This careless attitude has led to some very serious political and envir-onmental consequences: two dozen small islands in Indonesia have fallen victim to this massive extraction rate and simply ceased to exist. 50% of the beaches along Morocco’s coastline have disappeared over the last few years. All that is left is bare rock. Huge craters up to 10 metres deep are appearing on the sea bed as massive dredgers remove up to 400,000 cubic metres of sand every single day. This process stirs up the sediment (and all the living creatures in it), removes it and destroys the ecosystem vital to so many microorganisms and animals. Fishing communities, which are so dependent on these biospheres, are no longer able to support themselves.

From dwindling supplies of sand to the materials of the future

Whilst the situation here in Germany may not be as precarious as elsewhere around the world, action still needs to be taken. We cannot simply ignore the negative impact that these mining activities are having on our environment or the fact that we consume far more sand than nature can produce. What alternatives are there to sand though? What direction do we need to head in when it comes, for example, to thinking about renewable or innovative building materials? What options are available to recycle sand and concrete?

Looking for answers

To find out the answers, we put these questions to Dr Rudolf Diegel from REMEX Mineralstoff GmbH, a company that specialises in processing and recycling construction and mineral waste and in producing recycled aggregate. Go to the “Latest News” section to read the full interview (2nd article).

 

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