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The global resource shortage you have never heard about

If someone were to ask you to name the most-extracted materials on Earth, you might answer with fossil fuels or biomass. However, by weight, the answer is actually sand and gravel.
Picture sand and most people think of seas, river deltas, deserts and endless miles of beaches — a never-ending resource that seemingly will last forever.However, the exploitation of sand, caused by increased urbanization and unregulated mining of this global resource has already caused environmental damage, impacted water supplies and caused violent conflict. Over the years, very little thought has gone into the socioeconomic and environmental impacts sand mining may have on a region or community.”Sand is one of the most extracted materials after fossil fuels and biomass,” says Aurora Torres, ecologist and sand mining researcher at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research.

Sand  an unflashy and seemingly infinite resource  is the chief ingredient in cement and the hidden ...

Sand, an unflashy and seemingly infinite resource, is the chief ingredient in cement and the hidden hand behind the explosion of cities worldwide
Lillian Suwanrumpha, AFP

Sand used in urban developmentSand is a key ingredient in concrete, glass, asphalt and electronics, making it essential to most urban development projects. Sand is also essential in increasing land mass, moving the sand from one place to another. You could say it’s like taking from Peter to pay Paul.A future built on sandIn China, the number of people living in urban areas, over half a billion, has more than tripled in the past 60 years. This is close to the total population of the U.S., Canada and Mexico combined. China has also used more cement than the U.S. used in the entire 20th century in just the past few years. That means enough sand was used to cover the entire state of New York in one inch of sand.What were the consequences of so much sand mining to make concrete? Dredging so much sand from the Yangtze River and Lake Poyang undermined bridges, snarled shipping and caused thousand foot swaths of riverbanks to collapse. Massive amounts of sand are also being used in China and other parts of the world for land reclamation projects, shale gas extraction and beach replacement programs.

Workers position pipes at a sand excavation site along the Mekong River in Vientiane  Laos

Workers position pipes at a sand excavation site along the Mekong River in Vientiane, Laos
Lillian Suwanrumpha, AFP

In the United States, a beach in Monterey, California, the only one in the country, is being used to mine sand by Cemex, a global construction firm based in Mexico. Cemex operates a dredger that sucks up an estimated 270,000 cubic meters of sand every year.At one time, there were many sand mines along California’s beaches, but in the 1980s, the activity was halted because of erosion issues. Cemex managed to find a legal loophole because its operation sits above the mean high-tide line, making it outside federal guidelines.Sand mining promoting violenceSand used to be a local product. But with the fast-growing world population, migration to urban centers and increased need for infrastructure, sand has become a major business opportunity for organized crime. Now, with localized shortages and some countries banning sand mining, sand has turned into a global commodity.

Pensacola Beach  1957. Beach shows extremely white sand color.

Pensacola Beach, 1957. Beach shows extremely white sand color.
Father of JGKlein, used with permission

The international trade value of sand has increased six-fold in the past 25 years, and with competition growing, organized crime has stepped in to take its share of the profits. Criminal groups in India, Italy and elsewhere conduct illegal trade in soil and sand. Singapore’s high-volume sand imports have drawn it into disputes with Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia.Singapore wants to increase its landmass size by 20 percent, and so much sand has been removed from Cambodia, the country has instituted a ban on all sand mining due to the negative impacts this has created on the environment and local communities. Indonesia and Malaysia have also banned sand mining.

A number of engineering and architectural experts have highlighted the widespread use of relatively ...

A number of engineering and architectural experts have highlighted the widespread use of relatively cheap cement beams for renovatiuons as a possible factor explaining why so many buildings collapsed
Alberto Pizzoli, AFP

Actually, because so little research into the negative effects of sand mining have been done on an international scale, it is hard to estimate the true impact sand mining has on the environment and populations, particularly in poorer countries. We can be sure of one thing, though – Global demand for sand will increase as urbanization continues to grow and sea levels continue to rise.

27 Comments on "The global resource shortage you have never heard about"

  1. onlooker on Mon, 20th Nov 2017 5:49 pm 

    Sand? Long before we run out of sand many will be crying out for food and water

  2. Makati1 on Mon, 20th Nov 2017 6:30 pm 

    By way of comparison: To produce a 3000 psi cubic yard of concrete (27 cubic feet) the concrete mixture ratio is:

    1. 517 pounds of cement
    2. 1560 pounds of sand
    3. 1600 pounds of stone
    4. 32 – 34 gallons of water

    Our farm house will take at least 100 cu.yd. of concrete. That is about 100 bbls of oil energy from mines to finished product in place. The cost to me for materials and labor will be less than $5,000.

    Total used in the World in 2016:

    4,200,000,000 metric tons.

    Sand/gravel is not unlimited.

  3. MASTERMIND on Mon, 20th Nov 2017 6:47 pm 

    In Saudi Arabia they have to import all the sand they use for construction because their sand is to fine and salty…

  4. ____________________________________________ on Mon, 20th Nov 2017 7:13 pm 

    Good. Convert all sand to pavement. Pave your farm Makati. Bunch of retards crying about CO2 but want to convert arable land into rock.

  5. Makati1 on Mon, 20th Nov 2017 8:53 pm 

    Happy Holidays! From your friendly Police State America.

    “Thanksgiving travel: Trump’s holiday gift is more invasive airport security”

    More delays, groping, body searches, x-rays, etc. At 73, I get to avoid most of these.

    “Other Trump policies could soon blight millions of Americans’ travel plans. Starting Jan. 22, TSA may reject drivers’ licenses from many states that fail to comply with the REAL ID Act of 2005 (formerly one of the Tea Party’s most hated edicts). Travelers without passports from New York, Michigan, Illinois and other states could be barred from flying domestically, according to information on a DHS website.”

    TOTAL lock-down is coming. Be patient!

  6. DerHundistlos on Mon, 20th Nov 2017 9:05 pm 

    Anyone care to guess the theme of Kunt’s blog this week? I’ll provide you with one letter free of charge. It starts with a “T”.

  7. Makati1 on Mon, 20th Nov 2017 9:31 pm 

    Already read it. Immorality, corruption and delusional thinking is rampant in America. It is going down the shitter…

  8. Sissyfuss on Mon, 20th Nov 2017 9:36 pm 

    Mak, production of concrete is also a huge emitter of CO2.

  9. Makati1 on Mon, 20th Nov 2017 9:53 pm 

    Yep! From the mines/quarries to the factories, to the site, it ALL emits all kinds of pollutants not to mention huge amounts of heat. But it will not stop.

    There are about 100 new 40-60 story towers going up in Manila at the moment. Each easily exceeding a million c.y. of concrete use. Not to mention the millions of tons of rebar steel that also produces CO2 among other things. Not going to stop.

    We cannot stop. Like a drug addict, we will go on until…

  10. Davy on Tue, 21st Nov 2017 2:47 am 

    “The Wireless Power Grid: More Than A 100 Years In The Making”

    “More progress continues to be made. This year, senior study author and professor of electrical engineering Shanhui Fan said in a June interview for Stanford News that they have developed a way to wirelessly charge moving objects—a clear precursor to wirelessly charging not just stationary objects but electric vehicles while in motion. The technology could make alleviate the concerns that currently exist in the automobile marketplace about how far an electric car can travel without a charge—a major hurdle to making EVs more prevalent on the road. “We still need to significantly increase the amount of electricity being transferred to charge electric cars, but we may not need to push the distance too much more,” Fan said, adding that his hope is that “you’ll be able to charge your electric car while you’re driving down the highway. A coil in the bottom of the vehicle could receive electricity from a series of coils connected to an electric current embedded in the road.” And this induction system, the “electric road of the future” if you will, is already being tested in France. Carmakers have yet to incorporate into their vehicles the necessary technology that would allow them to top up by pads under the road surfaces, but this technology is already being tried out in a test track near Paris. Full-scale introduction of this tech is reportedly ten years out. “Maybe 10 years is a good timescale for this technology,” Virginie Maillard, a senior Renault EV engineer said in an interview with Autocar Magazine. “We have to design cars and the road network to accept it.”

  11. Go Speed Racer on Tue, 21st Nov 2017 3:13 am 

    Guys you can see how this works if you
    watch this video:

    It shows that crushed rock, gravel, AND SAND
    is all produced by machines. SO unless we
    run out of rocks, we don’t have to run out
    of sand.

    What’s going on is the companies involved
    are too greedy & lazy, to manufacture the
    sand they need. Instead of buying the
    machines, they steal it from
    the natural environment.

  12. sunweb on Tue, 21st Nov 2017 7:10 am 

    The heat energy requirements alone will make huge volumes of cement a thing of the past.

  13. Makati1 on Tue, 21st Nov 2017 7:19 am 

    sunweb, most here don’t get that far into thinking about any subject. Surface thinking is the norm. It’s like all of the ‘renewables’ coming into existence without mining, refining, smelting, melting, forming, machining, assembling, transporting, stocking and installing. They just appear on the shelves by pixie magic forever.

  14. JuanP on Tue, 21st Nov 2017 10:23 am 

    I live on a former mangrove barrier island that was filled with sand dredged from Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic. Miami Beach is constantly replenishing the sand on its beaches because of erosion, settling, and rising sea levels. This process is continuous and never ending. I can see the sand washing out from my condo’s windows and balcony. With every storm the beach gets narrower.

    At the same time we are building highrises all over town. The whole thing is completely insane, but the people involved are making a killing so it goes on and on.

  15. rockman on Tue, 21st Nov 2017 10:43 am 

    mak – “Thanksgiving travel: Trump’s holiday gift is more invasive airport security”. I hate calling you out, buddy. But what does your post have to do with sand resources? As I just posted in another thread I’ve begun an anti high jacking campaign.

    Same question for my other buddy, Davy. And yes: in the past I’ve joined such high jacks started by someone else. Difficult to ignore the bait. But I’ve see threads with 50+ posts with 80% of them not on the subject of the thread. Very frustrating hunting for the appropriate responses.

    Maybe the moderators would allow us to start a thread here titled something “Daily Complaint” or something like that to allow such venting.

  16. Davy on Tue, 21st Nov 2017 11:30 am 

    Sorry rock, you can talk to widdle g, he can ignore me and I will ignore him like a few others here. That has worked with Juan and Ape most of the time. It is as simple as that buddy.

  17. GregT on Tue, 21st Nov 2017 11:33 am 

    I will ignore you only if you stop with the name calling, childish rhetoric, and delusional accusations.

    As simple as that.

  18. GregT on Tue, 21st Nov 2017 11:42 am 


    There are plenty of articles where you can post your anti-American rants while staying on subject. As much fun as it may be, please stop egging him on.


  19. Davy on Tue, 21st Nov 2017 11:42 am 

    “I will ignore you only if you stop with the name calling, childish rhetoric, and delusional accusations. As simple as that.”
    Nope, widdle this is between you and me. I ignore you and you ignore me, period. What I do with others is my business. In the past you have seen where I ignored your pricking of plant and boat. You don’t get to have your cake and eat it. I am tired of your stalking and pricking or Americans and promotion of extremism.

  20. GregT on Tue, 21st Nov 2017 11:45 am 

    “Nope, widdle this is between you and me.”

    Then let the games continue psycho.

  21. Davy on Tue, 21st Nov 2017 11:48 am 

    my pleasure prick

  22. Duncan Idaho on Tue, 21st Nov 2017 12:06 pm 

    All 7 billion of us owe our existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact it rains; 6 billion of us also owe our existence to nitrogen created by Haber-Bosch from natural gas.

  23. JuanP on Tue, 21st Nov 2017 3:29 pm 

    On the homepage I saw “All 7 billion of us owe our existence to a six-inch …” And I immediately clicked the link, but it was just 6″ of top soil that Duncan was talking about. I thin kthere is another 6″ to which we also owe our existence! Though some may have an inch or two more or less and in some case twice as much! LOL!

  24. onlooker on Tue, 21st Nov 2017 3:48 pm 

    That top is being eroded, sterilized, denuded and poisoned at alarming rates. The other 6 inche’s are going strong so far haha

  25. Davy on Tue, 21st Nov 2017 4:19 pm 

    Good soil here on the farm, onlooker. No chemicals just goat and cattle poop. There are still good soils out there just not enough to feed billions

  26. onlooker on Tue, 21st Nov 2017 4:21 pm 

    Yes especially in very overpopulated countries

  27. Sissyfuss on Tue, 21st Nov 2017 5:24 pm 

    Slightly off topic, Rock. But is everything bigger in Texas if you know what I mean?

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