Earth is running out of sand? Come on, you can’t be serious. The Sahara Desert alone covers some 3,600,000 square miles, most of which is sand. So, we are running out of sand? The Australian Desert covers over 1,000,000 square miles. But still, the world is on a sand shortage even with all this going on in the desert? Yes, and let us explain.
Vince Beiser, author of The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How it Transformed Civilization, informed CNet about this sand shortage. “There is, of course, a lot of sand in deserts, the problem is it’s basically useless to us,” said Beiser. How can that be? It can be because the sand in deserts have been eroded by the wind over the millions of years, causing the grains to round and smooth. A smooth and round grain of sand does not make concrete or even many of the other resources we are used to. The grain these builders are looking for is sand that is rough, with corners and angles to it. This helps the sand lock together when using it to build.
Beiser said, “It’s like the difference between trying to build something out of a stack of marbles, as opposed to a stack of tiny bricks.” This is not good news. The sand that will make this happen comes from beaches and riverbeds. And we have been using it at such a rapid rate with the growing cities that this natural resource is slowly eroding, leading us to a significant sand shortage. Beiser estimates that across the globe, the equivalent of eight New York Cities is built every year. Construction of just one single building requires nearly 3,000 tons of sand. Uh oh.
The list of sand-usage is long. We use sand in many facets of our daily lives, whether you see it or not. In fact, sand is the second-most-consumed natural resource world-wide. Sand is used, as most are aware, to make glass. Sand is a key component in the concrete used across the globe to build highways and roads. This concrete is also what we use to build buildings. Sand is also used to build the chips that power our computers and phones. Its uses are high, very important, and not going away. While the need for sand is not going away, the exact sand needed for its uses is dwindling due to this sand shortage.
Around the world, builders of all things use over 50 billion tons of sand per year. Again, knowing just how large our deserts are across the globe, you all must be thinking, “Uhhhh, we definitely have enough sand. There can’t be a sand shortage.” True, we do have enough sand. We just don’t have enough of the specific type of sand needed to build. Not all sand is useable for our needs.
“We’ve got to find ways to build our cities that not only use less sand, but they use less of everything across the board. We’ve just got to find ways to live our lives more sustainably,” Beiser concluded. So, what are the options? Well, researchers are looking high and low for sand replacements to stem the tide of this sand shortage. Shredded rubber and shredded plastic are being used on a limited scale. They are also looking at hemp as a replacement.
Does this mean we stop building? Will progress stop on the other uses we need sand for? It doesn’t look like things will slow down in the near future as expansion is the way of the world. But with the resources slowly dying, just when will enough be enough?