Updated: Aug 2
Sand is currently the most mined mineral on earth, second only to water in terms of global resource usage. From glass to roads to bridges to buildings, sand is essential for almost every piece of infrastructure made. In response to the rise of cities, highways, and industrialization, the demand for sand has skyrocketed. With high demand comes resource depletion and today, the world faces an unthinkable crisis: a sand shortage.
But why are we running out of sand?
Some may ask, “How can sand run out? Is it not a renewable resource? Does it not naturally appear as a result of decades of slow but steady erosion?” Yes, but sand is extracted at a rate thousands of times faster than the rate at which it is created. As humans continue to contribute to the nakedness of beaches, riverbeds, and deserts alike, mother nature struggles to catch up.
Additionally, sand is just not regulated. There is no limit to how much sand can be collected and used. In addition to being poorly regulated, the collection of sand is also poorly recorded. Without a proper record of the dangerously rapid rate of sand collection, people simply are not well informed on how critical the situation is. This lack of investigation in the sand industry only further prep pills the rate at which sand is being depleted.
But what about the deserts?
To the naked eye, sand found in warm sunny beaches looks identical to the sand found in dry arid deserts. But microscopically the difference is astronomical. The sand found in deserts is created by wind erosion, which results in perfectly spherical sand grains that lack the random jaggedness that concrete construction requires. Thus, sand is exclusively collected from beaches, lakes and rivers, where the sand is rough enough to be used for construction.
But why should I care?
At the most economical standpoint, the sand shortage is significant because the high demand and low supply combined results in high prices, raising construction costs all over the world. However, the arguably more significant damage caused by the shortage of sand is the environmental damage. As beaches, rivers and lakes are stripped of their sand, many species of marine life lose their natural habitats. This sudden loss of habitable waters results in an overall decline in marine biodiversity. But marine life isn't the only thing at risk. Sand loss hurts humans as well. As more and more sand is collected, less natural sand is left to protect against storms, erosion and other natural risks that humans living close to the water may face.
But can we fix it?
Many have turned to beach replenishment to restore the sand that was lost. However, not only does this addition of new sand have the potential to bury pre-existing marine life, but it also erodes at a much faster rate than the natural sand, rendering it ineffective and high maintenance in the long run. Many contractors have also started to build beach side residential areas closer to the natural shoreline as a result of the false shoreline created by the replenishment sand, which in turn puts beach dwelling humans in danger as well. There have also been suggestions of sand alternatives in construction, like crushed rock.
Overall, the sand shortage at hand is a much more serious issue that once may realize. While there is always hope for the future, our current solutions are not the most ideal and require heavy rethinking.