World May Soon Face a Scarcity of Sand

In Soil Stabilization, Surface Management, Unpaved Roads by Frank Elswick

We may take it for granted while we’re at the beach or hiking through the desert, but sand is the world’s second-most highly sought natural resource — and our supply of it is quickly dwindling.

Sand can seem so plentiful when you’re on a trip to the beach that the idea of a scarcity of it might strike you as absurd. But strange as it may seem, the New Yorker has recently shed light on just how difficult it’s become to find sand — according to more dire estimates, the world may already be running out of it.

Not All Sand Is Created Equal

Sand has plenty of practical uses that most people are familiar with: from beach volleyball, to road aggregate, to horse racing, plenty of the activities we enjoy professionally and recreationally depend on the use of sand.

However, each of these applications requires its own type of sand, typically in very high quantities. That’s a problem because the types of sand in highest supply often have little utility — while desert sand is plentiful, for example, the New Yorker notes that it is “unsuitable for construction and, indeed, for almost any human use” because of its makeup. As a result, desert sand is rarely used for commercial or industrial projects, greatly limiting the world’s usable supply.

Even sand used for recreational purposes must have specific qualities. Ordinary beach sand isn’t suitable for professional beach volleyball, since it’s rough and can lead to injuries. The surface used for volleyball play must be a mixture of sands that drain well, are not too firm, and are free from clay, silt, and other particles. With as much as 1,360 tons of it needed for major tournaments, it’s little wonder that a suitable quantity might be hard to find.

Using Sand to Build Can Prevent Us from Getting More

The shortage of sand is in part the result of the inaccessibility of remaining deposits. While many remain in the United States, most are difficult to reach because they’re underneath housing complexes or protected land. The government sometimes allows these deposits to be quarried, but with so many of them located in densely populated areas, extraction would be a major disruption to daily life in bustling communities.

Construction itself can also deplete and displace sand reserves. Artificial archipelagos in Dubai, for example, were formed with “hundreds of millions of tons of sand” dredged from the floor of the Persian Gulf, leaving the area’s marine sand supply nearly depleted.

Natural disasters have further strained the world’s supply. After Hurricane Sandy, for instance, the Army Corps of Engineers spent billions of dollars removing sand from the ocean to create an artificial dune barrier between the ocean and New York City.

Aggregate Particles Aren’t Always Necessary for Roads

The global shortage of sand goes hand-in-hand with an increasing scarcity of other materials, like gravel and clay, that are used to create unpaved roads. These materials are also getting more expensive to outsource, particularly as supply grows thinner and thinner.

Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc.’s patented natural paving technology offers a unique solution to this issue, as it relies on native soils rather than outside aggregates. Through the managed application of a tried-and-tested product like Soil-Sement®, engineers can mold any soil into an impenetrable, durable surface, saving both money and manpower in the process.

So if you’re looking to strengthen your roads for the long-term, Midwest can help you keep your workers and equipment safe while protecting the environment, all while saving you the trouble of trucking in more scarce natural resources.

Frank is the sales unit manager of Midwest's road construction and natural paving markets.