A day at the beach, building the perfect sandcastle at the playground, watching how the sand trickles in the hourglass while playing a board game – joyful moments don’t take much but they do require some natural resources we often take for granted – for example, sand.
Isn’t Sand Plentiful?
Sand might seem plentiful at the moment but is rapidly becoming scarce. Several everyday items contain sand which we might not consider at first. If we just look around our home countless things have a connection to sand: the toothpaste we are using might contains sand, glass windows are made by melting sand, the oil we use in our cars and homes are fracked with the help of sand and the concrete walls are also ⅔ sand.
Today’s society is built on sand and our reserves are coming to an end. The demand for sand has increased by 360% in the last 30 years and sand is currently the 2nd most extracted resource on Earth after water, we extract about 40 billion tons each year globally.
How is Sand Used?
The No.1 purpose for sand extraction is the construction industry. As the world’s population has been increasing in the past centuries and continues to do so, there’s a greater need for infrastructure than ever. Cities are expanding, there are always more high rise buildings, more highways and all this requires an overwhelming amount of sand. To build 1 mile of highway, for example, over 45,000 tons of sand is necessary.
Not only have we been building “on land”, but we’ve been building “land” itself. Singapore, the island country, has the 3rd highest population density in the world and has the 7th highest GDP per capita in 2017 which gives them the motivation and the means to expand their territory. They have so far enlarged their island by ⅕ and are planning to continue the land reclamation in the future. For this they have been importing sand from 3 neighboring countries.
Different Kinds of Sand
What is important to know is that there’s more to sand than meets the eye. Although there is plenty of sand still in the deserts, that sand is actually not adequate for construction. Desert sand grains are too round which makes it unable to stick to cement, another component of concrete. Marine sand, on the other hand, has a more angular structure which stabilizes concrete and construction bases. This is why even desert-state Dubai has to import sand to support its construction projects.
Sand demand therefore mostly focuses on marine sand. Studies have come to the conclusion that if we keep marine extracting sand at this rate, there will be no more beaches by 2100. There are already visible signs of this process, 75-90% of beaches are retreating globally. In Florida, this rate is over 90%.
If we want our kids to be able to enjoy the beach and our grandchildren to have a sandbox, we need to decrease our sand usage drastically.
What Can We do about Sand Scarcity?
There are substitutes for sand which can be used in the construction industry but the first step is to make this generation more aware of sand scarcity in order to develop even more alternatives and spare the next generation the burden of having to deal with our carelessness.