The World’s Disappearing Sand

In Blog

Here are some interesting statistics and observations regarding one of the 21st century’s most valuable resources: sand.

Its from the New York Times article “The World’s Disappearing Sand” on 24 June 2016  (

  • We use more of this natural resource than any other except water and air. Sand is the thing modern cities are made of.
  • Sand is the essential ingredient that makes modern life possible. And we are starting to run out. That’s mainly because the number and size of cities is exploding, especially in the developing world. Every year there are more people on the planet, and every year more of them move to cities. Since 1950, the world’s urban population has ballooned to over 3.9 billion from 746 million.
  • According to the United Nations Environment Program, in 2012 alone the world used enough concrete to build a wall 89 feet high and 89 feet wide around the Equator. From 2011 to 2013, China used more cement than the United States used in the entire 20th century.
  • To build those cities, people are pulling untold amounts of sand out of the ground. Usable sand is a finite resource. Desert sand, shaped more by wind than by water, generally doesn’t work for construction. To get the sand we need, we are stripping riverbeds, floodplains and beaches.
  • Extracting the stuff is an estimated $70 billion industry.
  • Sand is tremendously heavy, which makes it expensive to transport. If you forbid sand mining in your backyard — as many American communities are trying to do — then it has to be trucked in from somewhere else. That drives up the price. Concrete is relatively cheap; if the cost of making a new building or road were to double, it could hit the economy hard.
  • Not to mention the extra truck traffic and pollution. California state officials estimated that if the average hauling distance for sand and gravel increased to 50 miles from 25 miles, trucks would burn through nearly 50 million more gallons of diesel fuel every year.
  • We can make more sand, but crushing rock or pulverizing concrete is costly, and the resulting sand is ill suited for many applications. We can use alternative substances for some purposes, but what other substance can we possibly find 40 billion tons of, every year?
  • Hardly anyone thinks about sand, where it comes from or what we do to get it. But a world of seven billion people, more and more of whom want apartments to live in and offices to work in and malls to shop in, can’t afford that luxury anymore.
  • It once seemed as if the planet had such boundless supplies of oil, water, trees and land that we didn’t need to worry about them. But of course, we’re learning the hard way that none of those things are infinite, and the price we’ve paid so far for using them is going up fast. We’re having to conserve, reuse, find alternatives for and generally get smarter about how we use those natural resources.
  • That’s how we need to start thinking about sand.