Why the World is Running Out of Sand and What Can Be Done About It

September 19, 2018 Karli Langner

Sand is one of the most critical natural resources there is. It has a million different uses, but it’s a crucial component of concrete, and humans use more concrete than any other material besides water. You might have seen news about the world running out of sand, and you might think that’s not necessarily true – but it’s much more complicated. The future of construction actually depends on the science of each tiny grain of sand. There’s not enough of the right type of sand that is needed to construct.

Where sand is from, what it’s shaped like, and what it’s made out of is very important if you want to build with it. Sand serves several purposes in concrete. Because they act as a filler, they also add more volume to the concrete. More volume means less air and a stronger product and the size of the sand also helps determine the concrete's strength.

The construction industry is the largest sand consumer. Generally speaking, two-thirds of a building is concrete, two-thirds of which is sand. For an average family house, therefore, 200 tons of sand is needed, for one mile of highway over 45,000 tons of sand is required! The demand for sand has increased by 360 percent in the last 30 years and it continues to do so. The demand has become so high that the black market is booming and the sand mafia is mining sand at all costs.

Only marine sand can be used for concrete. The grains of desert sand are too round for the cement to adhere. Thus, only a fraction of the total sand resources can be used, and marine sand extraction exceeds the reproductive capacity of the Earth. Studies suggest that at this rate, all of our beaches will be gone by 2100.

Check out this infographic from TradeMachines to learn more about the sand shortage and what alternatives can be used instead of sand.

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