When you think of sand, you are most likely thinking of a trip to the beach or an expansive desert across the world. What you probably do not think of is the new iPhone in your pocket or the road you are driving on. Sand is truly all around us and it is an important component of many everyday items in our lives. So, if it is so important, is it possible to run out of sand? Sand is a resource and like other resources it is possible to over consume and deplete to a level where the current supply cannot keep up with demand. While this scenario seems bleak, it is very real and one that the world is currently on the verge of facing despite the lack of awareness brought to the issue. As you read this, you are probably thinking that there is no way this could possibly be true. You can think of plenty of places with more than enough sand to go around. In fact, the last time you went to the beach you were amazed at how much sand you unintentionally brought home.
While it is undeniable that sand is everywhere, not all sand is suitable to be used. Sadly,the sand from the vast deserts around the world isn’t usable as it is not of a high enough grade.Likewise, we cannot mine the many beaches that exist as this would accelerate erosion and compromise the natural barriers that they provide. The same goes for river and ocean beds wheremining disturbs the micro organisms that are needed for the ecosystem to survive. In reality,there are really only a few places from which quality sand can be mined and only if done in a responsible manner. The key to all of this is balance. Currently, there are no real regulations in place that monitor sand consumption or mining. This is not only true for the United States, but for countries around the world as well. This lack of oversight has the potential for some very serious consequences if not addressed in the near future. So where is the sand really going and why should we monitor and regulate sand mining?
Sand is an essential element in almost all the products that we possess and use daily. It is in electronics like smartphones, computers, and the chips that they all use in the form of glass. Sand is also used in makeup and some plastics. Likewise, sand is used as a tool for the production and refining of other natural resources such as the process of fracking to extract oil from the ground. Most of all, sand is needed to make concrete and concrete is an essential component to build and maintain infrastructure. It is estimated that roughly 4.1 billion tons of cement is produced every year. To put this into perspective, it takes approximately ten tons of sand and gravel to make one ton of cement. If you do the math, that adds up to 41 billion tons of sand and gravel used every year for concrete alone. That is the equivalent of building a concrete wall that would wrap around the earth and be 88 feet high by 88 feet wide.
For the past three decades the demand for sand has been increasing at an alarming rateand one that is not sustainable. The steep rise in demand for sand combined with the lack ofregulations or environmental protection laws in many countries has led to the establishment of “Sand Mafias” or a group of individuals who mine and sell sand on the black market. It isn’t hard to start a sand mafia. In fact, all that is needed is a couple of trucks, shovels, and a small team of individuals willing to do some manual labor. These small groups head to the nearest beach, dig up as much sand as they can haul, then proceed to drive to the closest construction site to sell the sand; rinse and repeat. As is common in other types of mafias, they resort to extortion or worse measures when faced with challenges to their business model. “In 2017 the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent travelled to India to chase the sand mafia, revealing that despite a near-blanket ban on unlicensed sand mining across India, it operates with near impunity.” Sand mafias have been linked to horrendous crimes to include murders of journalists, activists, lawyers, and farmers all of whom have gotten in the way of their profitability from sand mining. Sand mafias have become a problem in many countries around the world to include India, Morocco, and Indonesia.
The ramifications of sand mining are not limited to criminal endeavors. The impact of over excessive sand mining on an ecological system is disturbing, to say the least, as it devastates critical habitats needed for fish and other species to grow before they are able to be consumed. “It also raises concerns about the significant ecological impact of sand trade and sand dredging. Taking sand from local river systems and transporting it far distances has lots of implications for energy use and ecological devastation.” Recently, the United Nations published a reportacknowledging the negative impacts of over excessive sand mining. In their report, the chapter titled Options for Action states, “A focus on constructive dialogue and rapid lesson learning is needed to create awareness and voluntary action today. We have an opportunity to act early to prevent avoidable environmental damage and biodiversity loss while transitioning to a new pathway of responsible sand extraction and consumption.” With the help of the UN, countries are trying to set policies in place to mitigate illegal sand mining. They are also attempting to develop procedures that will allow them to hold companies accountable for how much sand is being mined and to what countries it is being exported. While this is a good start, whether action is really taken depends greatly on each country.
The implementation and enforcement of laws is not the only thing that can be done to reduce the amount of sand that is mined every year. One solution is to implement a recycling program that would recycle the concrete from torn down buildings to be used in other infrastructure projects. Another solution is to rethink how houses, buildings and bridges can be built to last longer. The standard lifespan of a concrete building is twenty to thirty years. While it may initially be more expensive, in the long run less concrete would be used overall as facilities and bridges could last fifty to sixty years longer. In reality, the best solution is one that encompasses all of these things. Legislation, law enforcement, recycling, and thoughtful community planning together could make a big difference on the amount of sand that is needed, allowing it to be more responsibly mined thus discouraging sand mafia operations around the world. While this may seem like a big task, it really trickles down to the lowest level of the consumer. Infrastructure is necessary, but another part of the increase in sand consumption is the increase of consumer goods production. Individual efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle can make a huge difference if everyone were to do the same. This is not a scare tactic or an attempt to make anyone feel bad. It takes a lot of sand for our modern civilization to stay modern, but we can all do our part and something as small as waiting a little longer to upgrade to the newest iPhone model can make a difference.
Kelsey-Sugg, Anna, and Taryn Priadko. “Sand Mining Industry Fuelling Murders, Mafias and Ecological Devastation.” Chain Reaction, no. 138 (May 2020): 44. https://search-ebscohostcom.libdb.ppcc.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=8gh&AN=143525359&site=eds-live.
Programme Des Nations Unies Pour L’environnement. Grid-Geneva. Sand and Sustainability : Finding New Solutions for Environmental Governance of Global Sand Resources :Synthesis for Policy Makers. Nairobi, Kenya, United Nations Environment Programme, 2019.
There’s a Global Sand Crisis and No One Is Talking about It | Vince Beiser | TEDxPenn.”
Www.youtube.com, 1 July 2019, youtu.be/f12SSCUfOhk. Accessed 11 Oct. 2021.
“Why the World Is Running out of Sand.” Www.youtube.com, youtu.be/6KzP-tobpMU.
Accessed 11 Oct. 2021.