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Can Plastic Solve Sand Shortage in India?

The replacement of sand in cement mixes could partially solve India’s sand shortage.


Rapid urbanisation and a growing construction sector have sent the cost of sand skyrocketing in India. Sand is a key element in concrete, which is used widely in construction, and its demand, coupled with the high price and a rise in unregulated sand extraction is causing a growing sand shortage.

Researchers from India’s Goa Engineering College and the University of Bath (UK) have found that if plastic was to replace 10% of the sand used to make concrete, then India could save an estimated 820 million tons of sand. Though the strength of the cement may decrease, it is clear this research in plastic concrete could have positive ramifications.

The research tested five types of plastic particles which were used to make concrete tubes and cylinders. Ground-up recycled bottles were found to perform best. About 15 000 tons of this type of plastic is dumped in India each day, making the project feasible.

According to concrete structures expert John Orr, who led the research: “It is really a viable material for use in some areas of construction that might help us to tackle issues of not being able to recycle the plastic and meeting a demand for sand.”

One of the problems however, is that plastic yields less strength than sand but this problem may be solved in the application. “Low-tech uses, such as paving slabs, may be viable,” reckons researcher Richard Ball.

Whether plastic is used or not, a solution to India’s sand shortage is required. Combined with a lack of suitable recycling facilities, India’s sand crisis presents a unique opportunity for builders and developers in the future.

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