Sand is a highly ‘taken for granted’ resource, as most of us assume that it will never run out. And yet, as the UN confirms in a 2014 report, the seeming limitlessness of sand masks the fact that it is being mined at a rate much faster than its natural renewal rate. Read more on truth versus fiction on this underestimated natural resource.
#1 Myth: Sand is cheap.
Reality: Sand might be inexpensive at first glance, but in the long run, it is unlikely to stay that way. Because of its critical role in construction, the price of sand has quintupled in the past 30-40 years. The location of a quarry or mine can significantly influence the price of products. The level of competition within local markets is considered to be intense and the trend toward the consolidation of ownership has heightened industry competition in the past decade. Also, the high transport costs associated with this product severely limit the economic efficiency of transporting stone products long distances.
#2 Myth: Sand is readily available.
Reality: Sand can be found on almost every continent on Earth, blanketing deserts and lining coastlines around the world. But not all sand is useful. Desert sand grains, eroded by the wind rather than water, is too smooth and rounded to bind together for construction purposes. Dubai, which sits on the edge of an enormous desert, imports sand from Australia. The sand that is highly sought after is more angular and can lock together. We never thought we would run out of sand, but it is starting to happen in some places.
#3 Myth: Sand is infinite.
Reality: The global rate of sand use — which has tripled over the last two decades partially as a result of surging urbanization — far exceeds the natural rate at which sand is being replenished by the weathering of rocks by wind and water.
#4 Myth: Sand mining is simple.
Reality: When done irresponsibly, extraction of sand and gravel from active sources has environmental, social and economic effects to be aware of and manage.
Sand and gravel are typically sourced and extracted from seabeds, coastlines, quarries and rivers around the world. Internationally, ocean dredging has damaged coral reefs in Kenya, the Persian Gulf and Florida. It can affect marine habitats and muddy waters with sand plumes that can affect aquatic life far from the original site. Mining pocks the sand, speeding erosion along waterways. With most of the sediment gone, water depth and velocity are rapidly changing on a global scale. Increased erosion from sand mining makes coastal areas more susceptible to flooding, and may lead to the contamination of drinking water by sea salt.