The Importance Sand and Gravel in Our Lives
A Look at The Importance of Sand and Gravel Aggregates and Their Many Uses
Have you ever stopped to think about the role sand and gravel play in your life? Probably not.
Sand and gravel is a large business, meeting the many demands for growing cities. From residential, commercial, and municipal construction to paving roads and residential driveways, these aggregates play a major role in our lives.
Sand and gravel aggregates have various uses, including their use in mixing cement materials such as concrete, mortar, and plaster. Many construction projects wouldn’t be completed well without the use of these aggregates. And our homes and cities wouldn’t be what they are today without these valuable resources.
These aggregates are also important in the natural world. They form the foundation for bodies of water, such as lakes and riverbeds. And countless species of wildlife depend on these aggregates for their habitats.
And while many of us take these seemingly mundane resources for granted, they are some of the major building blocks of our modern life. With so many uses, they deserve some acknowledgement and praise.
So here’s a look at where sand and gravel come from and their many uses in our day-to-day lives.
The most popular use of gravel on its own is to build gravel roads and driveways. Even to this day, gravel roads are more abundant than paved roads, especially in rural areas.
Gravel is also a useful and decorative landscaping material. It provides excellent drainage in garden beds and is a good alternative to mulch and patio pavers.
Sand is found in quarries, sand pits, beaches, and riverbeds. There are various types of sand, each with their distinct uses—e.g. river sand, masonry sand, construction sand, and granite sand.
These sands are often used for:
- Sandlime brick
- Building and paving sands
- Fertilizer fillers
- Highways and road traction
- Golf courses
- Volleyball courts
- Arena flooring
- Land reclamation
- Sandboxes in playgrounds
Sand and Gravel Aggregates
Of their many uses, sand and gravel aggregates are most commonly used as main ingredients for mixing concrete. Concrete is widely used for a variety of construction projects including road and highway building, pavement, foundations, and the construction of buildings. Concrete products include bricks, blocks, pipes, and decorative stone.
It’s also becoming an increasingly popular material for home décor, including concrete countertops and flooring, due to its durable, waterproof, and fire-resistant qualities. Concrete is also customizable in colour, texture, and finish, and is a more affordable option compared to other materials—e.g. granite and hardwood.
Along with their uses in concrete, sand and gravel are also commonly used for landscaping, road bases and coverings, unpaved roads, fill, asphalt, roofing shingles, water filtration, and to provide traction on snowy and icy pavement.
The Production Process
The weathering of rocks over many years produces sand and gravel naturally. Rocks erode over time, breaking apart and travelling along rivers and streams. These rocks may have also travelled with ancient glaciers that carved the landscape. These aggregates eventually settled and formed deposits in riverbeds, glacial lakes, and beaches.
Sand is mostly composed of quartz. The weathering of igneous rocks such as granite produces sand naturally. As quartz is ground down, it becomes tiny grains of sand deposited in beaches and riverbeds. Sand can also be formed from the weathering of shells and fossils.
Natural gravel comes from the weathering of various types of rocks, including lava rock and quartzite. However, gravel can also be human-made. Gravel suppliers will crush stone, such as granite, using machinery.
Different sizes of gravel can be produced for various uses. For example, larger gravel sizes are used for drainage systems and driveways, while smaller gravel is used in stone beds and decorative pathways in gardens.
The sharp edges of limestone and dolomite crushed stone gravel make this type of gravel ideal for concrete production.
When a sand or gravel deposit is found, aggregate suppliers will dig pits to source these aggregates. Sand and gravel pits and quarries are usually located near consumers since the cost of transporting these heavy materials is high. For convenience and ease of access, sand and gravel suppliers are often located near large and expanding urban areas, such as Ottawa.
The proximity to customers reduces travel costs and fuel consumption, reducing the overall impact of the sand and gravel industry on the environment.
When long-distance transportation of sand and gravel is needed, freighters and rail cars are often used. For businesses and residents in Ottawa, sand and gravel suppliers are located nearby to meet your construction project needs.
Why These Materials Are Important (And Not Just for Construction)
Sand and gravel seem like abundant natural resources, but they are not easily renewable. While gravel can be formed by crushing rocks with machinery, it can take years for sand to form. And at the rate of extraction worldwide, the natural renewal rate cannot keep up with the increasingly high demand.
Although the amount of sand in the world appears abundant—e.g. in deserts that span continents—there is actually a decline in the amount of usable sand. Only certain types of sand are usable in the construction industry.
Desert sand, for example, is not suitable for concrete production or land reclamation because the wind erosion process forms round grains that do not bind well for use in concrete and construction. The specific usable sand is known as construction sand. And as the world’s population and cities grow, there will be an ever-increasing demand for this diminishing resource.
The estimated global consumption of sand and gravel is around 50 billion tons per year. And sand mining alone is a $70 billion (US) industry. So sand has become an increasingly important and valuable resource over the years as the demand for it in the global construction industry grows and its availability declines.
Sand and gravel are essential for building the roads, highways, buildings, homes, and other infrastructure we depend on to live our lives. Sand and gravel helped build the schools we learn in, the buildings we work in, the hospitals we heal in, and the homes we build our lives in. And the list goes on for all the other types of buildings we rely on for entertainment, food, and things we deem as necessities.
Along with being used as a construction material, these natural aggregates also help form the land that supports our infrastructure such as bridges and highways.
Sand and gravel make up the foundation of many natural habitats, such as beaches, riverbeds, and aquatic and riparian habitats. And when used for land reclamation, the newly-formed habitats provide homes for various wildlife.
After a sand and gravel quarry is no longer in use, aggregate companies give back to the Earth by creating new habitats, such as greenspaces, beaches, and lakes. This newly reclaimed land often provides a natural space for both humans and wildlife to inhabit, sometimes with neighbouring home developments, or as parks and swimming holes.
With their many uses, sand and gravel are a special natural resource. Our homes, roads, buildings, and cities wouldn’t be what they are today without the use of sand and gravel. And the places we go to escape the city, such as lakes and beaches, may not be as pristine and filled with wildlife without these natural resources supporting them.
Although sand and gravel may not seem like the most captivating topic to think or read about, don’t overlook the important role they play in all of our lives. As with all of Earth’s natural resources, it’s important not to take these for granted.
So the next time you sit on a beach, drive down a road, walk on a sidewalk, or admire a beautiful garden landscape, consider the important role sand and gravel play in our lives.
For more information on these valuable aggregates, contact your local sand and gravel suppliers.