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Earth Is Starting to Run Out of Sand

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Earth Is Starting to Run Out of Sand

When most of us think of limited resources, typically fossil fuels, trees or fresh water reserves come to mind. But, can we now add sand to the list? Well, according to scientists, our sand supplies are not only being depleted, but it’s happening at an alarming rate. Certainly, we’re all aware of the growing population in the world and its related effect on increasing demand for resources.

However, in order to correctly address the issue, we will all need to broaden our concept of not only the meaning of mineral reserves depletion but also the various industries that rely upon sand mining to sustain production. Crushed stone, gravel and sand are the most crucial elements involved.

Earth Is Starting to Run Out of Sand
Source: Pixabay

The sand which is mined, done at rivers, beaches and sea floors, is used in three main areas: construction purposes including concrete and asphalt, glass, electronics and fracking for the recovery of gas and oil from shale. Moreover, the extraction of this resource is relatively easier than other traditional methods such as mineral mining. Added to this is the large misconception that sand is a resource that is abundant and inexhaustible.

Bank erosion and river degradation are the most immediate effects of sand mining. Another issue is the political dimension—in many developing countries, sand is illegally mined more and more by powerful groups supported by international businesses—some have begun to refer to them as ‘the sand mafia’—so local law enforcement are often powerless to intervene. Just this year there was a controversial story involving a local constable trying to intervene in illegal sand mining along the banks of India’s Yamuna River which ended fatally.

Earth Is Starting to Run Out of Sand
Source: EJOLT

In a report published in the Science journal, the environmental effects of excessive sand mining are laid bare:

“Rapid urban expansion is the main driver of increasing sand appropriation…Sand and scarcity is an emerging issue with major socio-political, economic, and environmental implications…[For instance]In Sri Lanka, extensive sand mining exacerbated the impacts of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami… The high profits generated by sand trade often lead to social and political conflicts, including violence, rampant illegal extraction and trade, and political tensions between nations.”

Mining or Bust?

The environmental impact aside, if we accept the reality that sand is a finite resource, the industries which rely heavily upon the resource will also soon be affected.

According to a landmark report released by the Club of Rome assessing mineral depletion and its effect on production:

“Extraction is becoming more and more difficult as the easy ores are depleted. More energy is needed to maintain past production rates, and even more is needed to increase them,” continuing with a clear and very stern warning, “The production of many mineral commodities appears to be on the verge of decline… we may be going through a century-long cycle that will lead to the disappearance of mining as we know it.”

As sand depletion is fueled by profits, there has not been much in the way of large-scale effort from government; however, local communities have begun fighting back with fresh initiatives that involve putting pressure on policy-makers to take firmer positions. Sand mining, like climate change, is an issue which will require the public educating itself and an all-out effort to take action.


39 Comments on "Earth Is Starting to Run Out of Sand"

  1. !Lucifer! on Sun, 10th Sep 2017 5:53 pm 

    Humans still plotting their own destruction, it will not be long now.

  2. Go Speed Racer on Sun, 10th Sep 2017 6:00 pm 

    There should be lots of scenic wilderness
    areas, State Parks, and National Parks that
    have sand.
    We can dig those up so that
    we don’t run out.
    Example, Oregon Sand Dunes State Park.

    We don’t need any Parks or wilderness areas,
    we just need sand, and gasoline.
    This was made clear in the movie
    ‘Road Warriors’.

    If its hard to get the trucks to the sand,
    we can build freeways thru the wilderness
    area and put in lots of parking lots,
    McDonald’s and truck stops.

  3. Apneaman on Sun, 10th Sep 2017 6:16 pm 


    Tampa residents walk into empty ocean ahead of Hurricane Irma

    Watch Drone vision shows empty Florida bay

    “Drone footage filmed above Tampa Bay today shows a crowd of people walking hundreds of metres across the sand, where deep water could be found just hours earlier.

    The water has been drawn out into the hurricane, leaving the bay empty. A similar phenomenon happened in Thailand immediately before the tsunami in 2004 that took the lives of approximately 230,000 people.

    As with the 2004 tsunami, the water at Tampa Bay is expected to return to shore with the storm, as a huge storm surge.”

  4. makati1 on Sun, 10th Sep 2017 6:45 pm 

    I just read another article that said the same thing. Stupid people do stupid things. The wind is forcing the ocean out and when the eye passes, the winds reverse, sending the water back with a vengeance. More unnecessary deaths.

  5. onlooker on Sun, 10th Sep 2017 6:52 pm 

    Yep, works just like tsunami. Water recedes then returns with a vengeance. It always seems stupidity kills more people in these disasters than anything else.

  6. yellowcanoe on Sun, 10th Sep 2017 6:54 pm 

    This problem was outlined many years ago in the Journal of Irreproducible Results. I believe the article said that 80% of Americas beaches would disappear within 10 years if people didn’t start washing their feet off before going home!

  7. Cloggie on Sun, 10th Sep 2017 6:56 pm 

    What’s wrong with sand from the Sahara?

  8. Plantagenet on Sun, 10th Sep 2017 7:16 pm 

    When we run out of sand we’ll have to shift to silt.


  9. rockman on Sun, 10th Sep 2017 10:25 pm 

    Clogie – Exacly. There is no lack of sand globally. But there is an increasing lack of sand close to the end users. It’s economically feasible to haul oil half way around the world…not so much for sand. There will always be sand available for new projects…if the economic value of those projects justifies the hiigher shipping costs of the sand.

  10. Apneaman on Sun, 10th Sep 2017 10:59 pm 

    clog, not all sand is created equal. The article should have noted that, but it’s a piece of crap.

    Peak Sand

    Posted on March 6, 2014 by energyskeptic

    Sand Primer:

    -Without sand, there would be no concrete, ceramics, computer chips, glass, plastics, abrasives, paint and so on

    -We can’t use desert sand because it’s too round, polished by the wind, and doesn’t stick together. You need rough edges, so desert sand is worthless

    -Good sand is getting so rare there’s an enormous amount of illegal mining in over 70 countries. In India the Sand Mafia is one of the most powerful, will kill for sand. It’s easy to steal sand and sell there.

    -This has led to between 75%-90% of beaches in the world receding and a huge amount of environmental damage.

    -By 2100 all beaches will be gone

    -Australia is selling sand to nations that don’t have any more (like the United Arab Emirates, who used all of their ocean sand to make artificial islands)

    “One might think that desert sand would be a ready substitute, but its grains are finer and smoother; they don’t adhere to rougher sand grains, and tend to blow away. As a result, the desert state of Dubai brings sand for its beaches all the way from Australia.”

    Can’t use that desert sand for much.

    It’s just the human Mega Cancer sucking the remaining glucose from it’s host. Even as it’s host’s immune system response is smashing their cities and infrastructure to shit. The faster the cancer apes go the bigger the immune response will be. You’d have to have your head up your ass not to see the ever growing immune response of the earth-host.

    Of course the fact that sand extraction is now an environmental holocaust of it’s own does not even register with you and rockman. Never does with happy cancer apes.

  11. Anonymous on Sun, 10th Sep 2017 11:08 pm 

    Running out of sand. Bwahahaha!

    We actually had a story on this concept here, a couple years ago. We are running out of doomer articles, now. You are being forced to recycle. Haha!

  12. Zelena on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 1:33 am 

    I watched “Sand Wars” few years ago. Here’s the trailer:

  13. q on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 3:50 am 

    I am not cornucopian but this seems to me far-fetched.

  14. q on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 4:31 am 

    Well, I read several more articles about this problem and most mention that while we have still enough sand suitable for industrial purposes, we will be running out of it if current huge consumption continues. So this is not so far-fetched as I thought.

  15. Go Speed Racer on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 4:42 am 

    We could add another can at the curb,
    for recycling our sandpaper.

    I heard the best sand, is the white sand.
    Those white supremacists will like that.

    Why can’t we make sand by 3D printing it.

    As to the storm surge, it seems different from Tsunami.
    It comes back slower and lower.
    Tsunami comes in 50 feet high real fast.
    Hurricane surge comes in 10 feet high and slow.

    Not sure but it’s my best guess. If people get
    killed by tsunami, who cares, too many people anyway.

  16. Antius on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 5:00 am 

    Of all the resources facing constraints, it would never have occurred to me that sand was amongst the most urgent. I stand corrected.

    This is another example of naturally embodied energy within a mineral deposit that human beings mine from the Earth. Nature has stored energy in fossil fuels for us to use. It also stored energy in concentrated mineral deposits. We use fossil energy to convert minerals into products that we use. As time goes on, mineral deposits are progressively depleted and we must invest more and more energy to generate the same refined materials that we need to manufacture products. This means that with time, both the EROI and quantity of energy needed by human civilisation must increase, just for total wealth to stand still.

    The problem is we are headed in the opposite direction. Our energy sources are depleting and EROI is declining, even as energy requirements for resource procurement are increasing. It is a pincer movement that will crush industrial civilisation. It is the primary reason why I believe that a transition to renewable energy and a general power down, as not options for preserving technological civilisation. In the first case, the EROI with storage is too low; the second option would only slow the problem and it is difficult to see how it could be peacefully carried out. A transition to some form of closed-cycle passively safe nuclear power would delay the reckoning, but will not halt it and would introduce other problems of its own.

    The only solution that would allow technological civilisation to continue is to both leave the confines of the Earth and for those remaining on the Earth, substitute Earth-based resources using space-based resources. This is the solution that we must develop as quickly as possible.

  17. Antius on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 5:07 am 

    “You’d have to have your head up your ass not to see the ever growing immune response of the earth-host”

    It is time to leave the Earth-host. Humanity isn’t a cancer, it is a baby waiting to be born.

  18. Cloggie on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 5:16 am 

    It is time to leave the Earth-host.

    Where to?

    Look, I am all for space exploration and the potential of a combined Eurosphere space program of American, European and Russian space agencies is enormous. but there is no realistic alternative for Earth.

  19. Cloggie on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 5:24 am 

    Sand can be recycled.

    Glass is recycled, at least in Western Europe and probably in America as well:

    And it is possible to recycle stone and concrete as well and create new high quality bricks from it:

    (Dutch language video but the pictures speak for themselves)

  20. Cloggie on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 5:38 am 

    Recycling sand (stone) into bricks with olivine surface layer:

    [3:53] Dutch language.

    100,000 m2 recycled stone, used in roads or building with an olivine surface layer has the CO2-absorbing equivalent of 3,000 trees.

  21. Davy on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 5:51 am 

    Sand and the quality of sand is like many other resources in that all sand is not the same. Sand is so important to industry and development and the EROI is in decline with good deposits in depletion in respect to economic place is significant. Sand is like other commodities that are large with low margins. They become uneconomic quickly with distance depending on their use. This is just another example of the decline of our foundational resources of global civilizations. Sand is everywhere but quality exploitable sand in the right place is not.

  22. Antius on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 5:54 am 

    “It is time to leave the Earth-host.

    Where to?

    Look, I am all for space exploration and the potential of a combined Eurosphere space program of American, European and Russian space agencies is enormous. but there is no realistic alternative for Earth.”

    Gerard O’Neill proposed that the best location for continuing human industrial civilisation would not be another planet as such, but within space itself – specifically in high orbit above the Earth. You can get a copy of his book for free on Kindle unlimited:

    In space, high above the Earth, solar power is available 24 hours a day (no need for storage) and has an intensity of 1350W/m2 – much greater than at any point on the surface of the Earth on a time averaged basis. What is more, without gravity or atmospheric forces, solar power can be harnessed by extremely thin structures – literally a foil mirror concentrating sunlight onto a focus. This means that solar power in space is both high-EROI and limitless so far as human beings are concerned.

    Materials are available in near infinite quantities from the moon and asteroids. O’Neill’s idea was to install an electromagnetic catapult on the surface of the moon (a coil gun or mass-driver) which would launch mined lunar material into high-Earth orbit using electric power, without the need for rockets. This is workable on the moon, because there is no atmosphere and the escape velocity is low compared to the Earth – only about twice as fast as a rifle bullet. Today, much of the work involved in setting this up and running the device, would be provided by robots, tele-operated from the Earth. Once established, this would provide a very cheap way of launching bulk materials into space.

    With unlimited solar power and low-cost materials from the moon, factories established in high orbit would manufacture solar power satellites to provide power to the Earth and orbiting rotating habitats, to house the required workforce. The scale of the operation would start small and grow larger as solar power satellites progressively replace other forms of power generation on Earth.

    The thing that killed these ambitions in the 1970s and 1980s was the inability of the space shuttle to provide cheap access to space. At shuttle launch prices, the required investments for a start-up operation would have been trillions of dollars. Now, with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos developing heavy lift rockets that reduce the cost of accessing space by 1-2 orders of magnitude, the investments required to begin this sort of programme are no longer absurd. They still run into many tens or hundreds of billions of dollars, so a cooperative partnership between Europe, US and Russia would certainly be preferable. The required investments are enormous, but the project would be achievable now if enough cash can be mustered for the required investments. We can expect the cost of launching materials to come down further through economy of scale, which is the most important factor keeping it so high.

  23. Cloggie on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 6:08 am 

    Well this is a nice hobby for a few hundred of people, but offers no solution for billions.

    First of all, it takes $23,000 to bring 1 kg in orbit, with corresponding energy footprint.

    And what about the food chain? Plants, animals? All to be lifted into space?

    Human life cannot sustain in zero gravity environments. I know, giant rotating structures creating artificial gravity.

    It is a techie dream, just like the idea to run the planet on 100% nuclear energy. It is unrealistic. The planet is in a bad shape, but not all is lost. The goal should be to ignore the “hopium screamers” and repair the planet and next go for the second last Final Frontier (space).

  24. Davy on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 6:29 am 

    Antius how about we send a few people out to keep our seed alive but we also focus on how we can manage our last days as a civilization on earth. We can also talk about postmodernism and how we can make that life better for those who pick up the pieces and live on a destroyed planet in a marginal existence. This would be much like those premoderns did during the ice age when they lived on the edges of the great ice masses.

    Talk about leaving earth is fine. I am not going even if they offered me a 1st class seat. Maybe my kids will go but I will stay here and die on my farm. I will make good worm food and be back into the earth from where I came. Life will continue on and likely there are a million other places in the universe where life is and likely some of that life that is really balanced and good. You know life the avatar movie or something. We humans are not. We are disgusting creatures when our populations are in overshoot. We create ugly things and destroy beautiful things. That is disgusting in my dictionary.

  25. Antius on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 7:44 am 

    “Well this is a nice hobby for a few hundred of people, but offers no solution for billions.
    First of all, it takes $23,000 to bring 1 kg in orbit, with corresponding energy footprint.”

    Surprisingly, no. The Falcon Heavy can lift 63,800kg to Low Earth Orbit at a cost of $90million. That’s $1400/kg. That is at low usage rates. With larger economy of scale, costs will go down further.

    This is possible because Musk and Bezos have largely perfected the reusability of two-stage to orbit launch vehicles. Cost of launch with the space shuttle was $30,000/kg. We are looking at 2 orders of magnitude reduction in that cost with mass production of Falcon Heavy.

    As the industry scales up the demand for workforce will increase, the diversity of industries needed to support them will increase and the cost of travelling from Earth to high orbit will decline. So this could be a solution for quite a lot of people. The energy provided by solar power satellites and rare metals from the asteroids, will of course benefit everyone.

    “And what about the food chain? Plants, animals? All to be lifted into space?

    Human life cannot sustain in zero gravity environments. I know, giant rotating structures creating artificial gravity.”

    The Russians were quite successful at perfecting closed life support systems at quite small scales. Food can be grown and wastes can be treated within surprisingly small volumes. I suspect the first human habitats in high orbit will be cramped – they will basically be living in factories. As time moves on and the scale of operations increases, more comfortable rotating space colonies with internal landscaping will be produced.

    “It is a techie dream, just like the idea to run the planet on 100% nuclear energy. It is unrealistic. The planet is in a bad shape, but not all is lost. The goal should be to ignore the “hopium screamers” and repair the planet and next go for the second last Final Frontier (space).”

    It is a techie dream and it may well be that it is not achievable. But I don’t think it is anymore hopium than pretending we can power the Earth using ground based wind and solar. So far, the world has sunk $4trillion into these with little to show for it. Establishing space manufacturing of solar power satellites will be very expensive too, but the energy source has better EROI and does not suffer from the same intermittency problems. There are a lot of technical challenges, but no fundamentally new technologies are needed to make this work.

  26. makati1 on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 7:47 am 

    Ant, Musk is a snake oil salesman, right up there with used car salesmen or politicians. He is a grifter. He tells fools what they want to hear and then ask them to send money. LMAO

  27. Antius on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 8:08 am 

    ” Ant, Musk is a snake oil salesman, right up there with used car salesmen or politicians. He is a grifter. He tells fools what they want to hear and then ask them to send money. LMAO”

    SpaceX is a profit making organisation. Musk has succeeded in reducing the cost of space launch by an order of magnitude, with another order of magnitude achievable with economy of scale. He has largely cornered the US launch market. His endeavours in this area have been an outstanding success. His electric car dreams are a little more dubious from my point of view, but maybe I am wrong.

    We are running out of sand, people. It is hard to imagine a more basic resource or a more convincing indictment that human beings have no long term future if confined to the surface of the Earth. That conclusion should be obvious by now and the solution should be equally obvious.

  28. Cloggie on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 8:14 am 

    I’m taking this article with a grain of… er sand. Sand based materials can be recycled endlessly:

    Overpopulation is the single most worrying aspect of the 21st century and everything that is derived from that.

    And nukes (going off).

  29. Sissyfuss on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 9:11 am 

    Space living at this point in our evolution is nothing more than a boutique enterprise. All our endeavors should be laser focused on preserving the natural environment that makes life possible. And an a priori, the most critical is reducing our population. But humans waste their time on hopium undertakings that are consonant with their need to dominate. Our global communal philosophy is failing us but the majority won’t realize til it’s much too late.

  30. Antius on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 9:17 am 

    Cloggie, interesting video. In principal, we could manufacture sand by milling rocks down to submillimetre scales. We could start with shales to give us a head start. My point is that it will require more energy to do this than we presently use in simply mining the stuff. If that weren’t the case we would be manufacturing our sand already.

    A similar problem with many resources. To keep up supply we need to invest more and more energy – because the high grade resources were exploited first. The trouble is we are running out of energy too. The EROI of remaining energy supply continues to decline. That is what I meant by pincer movement. It is why no technical solution that involves remaining where we are is going to save us. Not renewables, not nuclear power, nothing. The best energy solution imaginable could only buy us time. The falling prices of oil, electricity and other commodities are all symptoms of a system under stress – people can no longer afford the output of the economy.

    In the short term, space mining and manufacturing could help by allowing satellite solar power to substitute for declining terrestrial energy production and by supplying high value elements for Earth based manufacturers. Long term, it provides at least part of humanity with an escape route. If the cost of accessing space ultimately declines to $100/kg to low orbit, the cost of reaching high orbit might be as little as a few tens of thousands of dollars for the average person. Provided that person has a job to go to when they get there, it is affordable to them.

  31. Cloggie on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 9:46 am 

    The EROI of remaining energy supply continues to decline.

    Not sure if that is true, but even if it is there is so much fat we can strip from modern life. First of all, we can remove the misses from the production process, send here home and let het watch her 2.1 children, like in the fifties. I know that is not to the liking of paul-tard, but I have taken from him that problems can be solved by shooting people. Interesting thought.

    My favorite example: Croatia, a country I visited last year. GDP nominal $12k ($24k PPP). The country is not rich, many do not have a car, most do not go on international holidays. Many have a vegetable garden.

    Emissions per capita in tons CO2:

    Croatia…. 4.3

    But the country has a relaxed, pleasant aura. People are well-dressed, look happy, no beggars or homeless. A bit like our fifties except that everybody is staring on his//her mobile phone like everywhere else. Many grow their own food. Luxury, that is sitting on a terrace, drinking a coke, watching their own country losing from Portugal, like I witnessed in Zadar, during a public viewing on the central square:

    The point is, your can have a happy, fulfilling life without abject poverty with only a quarter of the energy budget of an American or half of that of a European (after a cold turkey first).

  32. tahoe1780 on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 10:27 am 

    Elites in space. I’ve seen that movie. It didn’t end well.

  33. tahoe1780 on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 10:56 am “we get much better economics from using materials already above the “gravity well” of Earth to efficiently build large structures in space, powered by essentially free solar energy.

    The early ones were to be the work camps for humans helping robots to build large solar-power satellites for the specific purpose of supplying people on Earth with low-cost, non-polluting, zero-carbon energy, especially in developing nations.

    Eventually, we thought, such dwellings could become independent worlds where peoples of like mind were free to practice their chosen lifestyles.

    With the resources of the asteroid belt alone, brighter minds than mine calculated that we could build island worlds to house at least 60 billion human beings.”

  34. rockman on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 1:03 pm 

    Clogie – “The EROI of remaining energy supply continues to decline.”

    “Not sure if that is true…” No, it’s not. In fact as a result of the decline in oil prices the EROI of projects drilled today has increased significantly compared to those drilled several years ago. Since I’ve explained that numerous times in detail I won’t waste space here doing it again for those that weren’t paying attention.

  35. Boat on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 2:41 pm 


    Germany may be impressive to you but Calif/Florida together are about equal in gdp.
    Germany, 80 million…..Calif/Florida, 60 million.

    If churning out gdp with more people is good then India, China, Bangladesh and many others including Germany kick US ass. If churning out gdp is good with millions less people then look to the US as champs.

    Now if those Republicans would vote greener we would drop co2 levels faster. With dropping costs in solar and wind it’s going to happen anyhow. Capitalists love the cheapest energy.

  36. jawagord on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 3:28 pm 

    Wind and Solar are only cheap when subsidized. Capitalists love a government subsidy even more than they love cheap.


    “…. Solar also gets the most state-funded subsidies, some of which greatly exceed the federal subsidies. In my own State of Washington, where electricity prices are 8¢/kWh, the State pays me 54¢ for every kWh generated by my rooftop solar array, whether I use it or not. This has made my total electricity costs -7¢/kWh over the past two years, and will for the foreseeable future.

    Yes, that’s negative (-)7¢ per kWh. And this is on top of my 30% installation federal tax credit which came to about $6,000 for my 4 kW array.

    There is no doubt that these subsidies incentivize renewables, but what do they do to the cost of the electricity generated by them?

    They actually increase the cost. However, this cost is transferred from the ratepayer to the taxpayer, and so goes unnoticed by most Americans.

  37. DerHundistlos on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 5:25 pm 

    “All our endeavors should be laser focused on preserving the natural environment that makes life possible.”

    Thank you, SISSY!!!!!

  38. onlooker on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 7:47 pm 

    Yes Sissy. Perhaps this is one point almost all of us can agree on on this site?

  39. makati1 on Mon, 11th Sep 2017 8:08 pm 

    I totally agree with Sissy on that point also. But then, the “average” human does not make the decisions do they? It is the power hungry humans that we allow to rule our lives, that do. The system is now running on automatic until the end of humanity, I think. I do not see any changes happening, except in the negative.

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