Featured Stories

Murdered for Sand

The world is running out of sand, and people are dying as a result

Erik Brown
Sep 30, 2018 · 7 min read
Photo: helovi/E+/Getty Images

Listen to this story



“It is to cities what flour is to bread, what cells are to our bodies: the invisible but fundamental ingredient that makes up the bulk of the built environment in which most of us live.“

Vince Beiser, author of “The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization”

Think of a valuable resource. What images come into your mind’s eye? Maybe oil? Water? Perhaps you looked at a ring on your finger and thought of gold. All of these are valuable resources, it’s true.

Credit: Sand Stories

Sand Isn’t as Plentiful as You Think

You may be thinking: But sand is everywhere, there are whole deserts filled with the stuff.

Construction’s Endless Appetite for Sand

The world has seen a construction boom in recent years. The base that boom is built on, quite literally, is concrete. The United Nations estimates that the world consumes more than 40 billion tons of building aggregate — sand, gravel, and crushed stone — each year. Some estimates predict consumption will top 50 billion tons by next year, with China alone gobbling up much of the world’s concrete supply as it undergoes a massive urbanization. According to data from the U.S. Geological Survey, between 2011 and 2013 China used more concrete than the U.S. used throughout the entire 20th century. Other parts of Asia, such as India, are rapidly expanding as well.

“Sand mafias” are groups of criminals that illegally dredge sand from areas where extraction is prohibited.

Sand is also used for reclamation projects — reclaiming land from the sea. Singapore is probably the most extreme example. Since 1960, the country has expanded its landmass from 581.5 to 721.5 square kilometers. By some estimates, reclaiming one square kilometer requires up to 37.5 million cubic meters of sand. In an effort to accommodate a growing population and rising sea levels, Singapore plans to add another 40 square kilometers by 2030, though officials say they are turning to methods that will reduce the need for imported sand.

The Sand Business Attracts the Criminal Underworld

One of the prime issues with sand is that it’s heavy. Heavy items incur large transportation costs, especially over a long distance. The scarcity and high prices attract the attention of criminals. Why go to a legal mining area when sand can be extracted for next to nothing elsewhere?

Are We Doomed to Run Out of Sand?

You might be feeling depressed right about now. The world is going to run out of sand, there will be chaos in the streets, and sand mafias will kick down your front door to steal your kid’s sandbox.

Just as criminal cockroaches will crawl out from under rocks to terrorize villagers and take their sand for a profit, this demand and scarcity will call for innovation.

Technology can greatly offset this law of diminishing returns by increasing productivity. Through today’s technology, areas of the world that have always been net importers of food are becoming net exporters. Hybrid seeds, fertilizers, farming techniques, and pesticides have fought back the diminished returns from a plot of land and increased yields to levels previously thought impossible.

Written by

Work out fanatic, martial artist, student, MBA, and connoisseur of useless information. CantWriteToSaveMyLife@yahoo.com

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store