But, for many coastal dwellers around the world, sand is hardly taken for granted – because it is frequented taken from beaches and river beds, gone from the coastal system for good once it is trapped in the hard infrastructure of buildings and roads, high-tech devices and low-tech substances. Some experts have even dubbed sand the 21st century’s most valuable natural resource – behind only water and air in the amount used every year.
This industrialization of sand can be difficult to comprehend, until you examine some other facts to put it into perspective:
Sand extraction has been deemed a $70 billion industry worldwide.
In 2011-2013, China used more cement (whose main ingredient is sand) than was used by the U.S. in the entire 20th century.
The sand used worldwide in 2012 alone is enough to build a wall 89 feet square (10 feet wide by 8.9 feet tall) around the Equator.
Most of the sand used by international industry has to be obtained from coastal or riverine beds, as wind-shaped desert sand is unsuitable for many purposes.
Coverage of a global black market in sand has increased of late, including articles and films documenting the dangers and destruction surrounding sand mining.
Viewing sand as a valuable commodity may be a new perspective for most Americans, but it can be a useful one in the years ahead, as conditions and demands evolve.
For example, seeing sand as a finite resource underscores the need to capture and/or recycle any beach-compatible sand to be brought back to the beach – not lost to sea as the less-cost alternative. This requirement to keep beach-quality in the nearshore system is growing in this country (think of Regional Sediment Management), and should be encouraged at all regulatory levels as a way to keep coasts healthy over the long term in a more cost-efficient manner.
Similarly, better management and use of offshore sand sources is clear when that sediment is viewed as an increasingly rare and extremely valuable resource.