BY: ELIJAH BASSETT
It’s become common knowledge that our businesses are ravaging the environment in all kinds of ways, but one that we might not think of too often is our sand. It’s easy to forget, but the fact is that if you live in an industrialized nation, you are constantly surrounded by sand and it had to come from somewhere. The problem is, unlike other materials like wood, sand is not a renewable resource and we’re running out.
This can have major implications for the ecosystems and communities the sand is taken from. Currently, our own industries take advantage of local economies and the environment in order to keep on expanding the way they do. Even entire islands are disappearing because of this demand for sand. There is one company that’s decided to take an arguably more responsible approach, though.
DB Breweries is a New Zealand beer company that has recently created a machine to turn beer bottles into sand, which is then “given to construction companies and anyone else who needs it, reducing the dependence on beach-derived sand.” According to Lyn Mayes from the Glass Packaging Forum, about 60,000 tons of glass ends up in landfills every year, although it isn’t clear how much of this comes from beer bottles. With a global demand for 40 billion tons of sand annually, even if all of that glass were recycled it would only be a drop in the bucket.
Not only that, but since glass is just one of the countless products made with sand, there is only so much impact a project like this can have on the bigger issue of sand mining, especially since the machine is made specifically for a brand of beer that DB Breweries makes.
Still, DB Breweries has raised an important point about the impact of industry on the world. We really do need to rethink our relationship to consumption and the environment, even – and especially – when the problem is so widespread that it seems impossible to solve. That said, in some cases we don’t even have to rethink things. For example, the way we normally recycle bottles by returning them to the store can actually extend the life of bottles dramatically, reducing the amount of sand the alcohol industry needs to consume. Using a machine to immediately turn a bottle into sand may actually have less favourable effects, although that question would be better answered by a recycling expert.
Of course, what we do with our glass bottles is only a small dimension of the issue. Looking at the bigger picture, it will probably take a much more comprehensive and revolutionary change to stop the horrors of this 70 billion dollar industry. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an obvious solution; with so many governments, corporations, and criminal groups participating to varying degrees, it seems like it will take more than laws or recycling to stop this harmful industry, let alone reverse the damage that’s been done.
In the meantime, all we can do is try to reduce our consumption of sand-based products and recycle what we do use. Considering that it is possible that the technology DB used for their brand-specific machine really could have promise if it were integrated into recycling operations around the world. Even though glass only accounts for a tiny fraction of the sand mining industry, it seems like such small victories might be the most we can hope for in this case.
I don’t know about you, but it kind of makes me want a drink.