Scientists Think The World Is About To Face A Sand Shortage

By Douglas Helm | 3 weeks ago

sand dunes shortage

Earth has a lot of finite natural resources that we’re burning right through. The latest resource you can add to that list is sand. Recent reports indicate that we could be facing a major sand shortage soon, which doesn’t bode well for a variety of industries. Even more importantly, making up for this shortage, it won’t bode well for biodiversity and ecosystems that rely on the sand as a habitat.

This sand shortage warning comes from The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). They also mention that sand is the world’s second most exploited resource, behind water. According to their report, we could build an 88-foot tall and wide wall around the planet with the amount of sand that is utilized each year. For weight, that would be about 50 billion tons.

So, what is the solution to a sand shortage? UNEP has some proposals. First off, there needs to be regulation around the use of sand. Part of that means pricing sand in a way that recognizes its value, so it isn’t overused en masse. Sand is incredibly important for economic development. Most notably, it’s used for concrete and glass, which are vital for infrastructures like roads, homes, hospitals, and more. Sand is also integral for supporting marine life and other habitats. If you happen to be Anakin Skywalker, you might be happy, otherwise, this is not good news.

The report takes special care to mention that extracting sand from beaches and coastlines should be banished. This coastline sand is especially useful for combating the effects of climate change. For one, it supports marine life that acts as carbon sinks. Phytoplankton is integral to balancing the carbon dioxide and oxygen levels on Earth. In fact, phytoplankton is responsible for producing anywhere between 50 to 85% of the Earth’s oxygen. Coastlines also act as natural barriers to changes in sea level and other devastating oceanic effects of climate change. The sand shortage is due largely in part to sand being extracted at a rate that is faster than the natural process that produces it.

All of this is to say that the sand shortage is a serious problem that needs to be addressed with multiple different plans of action. A regulating body or institution to manage the distribution of sand and track it will be an important first step. To achieve a circular economy for sand, further measures will need to be taken. Fortunately, some of these solutions already exist. First is banning putting mineral waste in landfills. Another solution is incentivizing the reuse of sand in public procurement contracts. It could also be helpful to incentivize the use of sand alternatives, such as recycled construction and demolition material and “ore-sand.”

In short, sustainable sand management practices and encouraging businesses and governments to put the right policies in place may be enough to combat this potential sand shortage. Ideally, these measures would be taken before it is too late, and the sand shortage reaches a full-on crisis level. It’s important to realize which of our resources are finite and make the most of them, without causing further harm to the environment. These recommendations from UNEP seem like the best way to move forward.