Why Sand Is Essential to Humanity and How We’re Using It Up
What would you guess, after water and air, is the world’s most used resource? The answer is sand. Since the grainy substance is the biggest component in concrete–combined with cement and gravel–it is used in just about every construction project from Dubai to Hong Kong. In the last half-century, the world’s sand consumption has ballooned due to exploding urban growth, particularly in developing countries. In China alone, more cement was used from 2011 to 2013 than the United States used during the entire 20th century.
This unprecedented use presents a problem since usable sand, like any other non-renewable resource, is finite. In general, the material used in concrete comes from oceans, rivers, and other large bodies of water. Vince Beiser wrote a column in The New York Times exploring the environmental impact of the $70 billion dollar industry. Here’s his primer on the business:
“It runs the gamut from multinational companies’ deploying enormous dredges to villagers toting shovels and buckets. In places where onshore sources have been exhausted, sand miners are turning to the seas.
“This often inflicts terrible costs on the environment. In India, river sand mining is disrupting ecosystems, killing countless fish and birds. In Indonesia, some two dozen small islands are believed to have disappeared since 2005 because of sand mining. In Vietnam, miners have torn up hundreds of acres of forest to get at the sandy soil underneath.”
Read Beiser’s full case here. To get a better understanding of what goes into sand dredging, take a look at an example of the “villagers toting shovels and buckets” Beiser mentions in the photo essay below.
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