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The Hidden Environmental Cost of Mining Sand

The Hidden Environmental Toll of Mining the World’s Sand

Humanosity says…Mining sand is the largest mining industry in the world. 85% of all the resources we extract from the ground is sand. Unfortunately, it is also the least regulated and perhaps the most corrupt and environmentally damaging endeavours. This article provides a comprehensive overview of the sand mining industry globally…..

When people think of environmental protests against the mining industry, I suspect the images that come to mind are of big open coal mines or of toxic runoff destroying local ecosystems. However, most of the mining undertaken around the world is about extracting sand. Like much of the mining industry, it is characterised by corruption, environmental degradation and death.

Little data exists on sand mining but according to estimates produced by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) some 40 billion tons are mined each year. However, even this figure is probably a serious underestimate. It’s based on the fact that every ton of concrete requires between six and seven tons of sand.

Concrete is the predominant use for sand. But sand also makes up 90 percent of asphalt on roads. It also is used for land reclamation in places like Singapore. And it is widely used in industries such as glass manufacturing and fracking, where it forms part of the gritty mixture injected underground to fracture shale deposits and release natural gas or oil.

China is estimated to consume more sand in three years than the U.S. consumed in the entire 20th century

China consumes around 60% of the global sand supply and over the next three years is expected to consume as much sand as the entire USA used over the course of the 20th century.

You would imagine that with all the deserts on the planet there’s plenty of sand to go round. However not all sand is created equal. Desert sand is useless for building because the individual grains are to smooth and round so they don’t bind well in concrete.

Marine sand is expensive as it needs to have all the salt washed out so that it doesn’t corrode the metal reinforcement used for structural strength. So river sand or sand dug from pits has become the favourite target. However mining sand from river beds is perhaps one of the most environmentally destructive.

Gouging sand from rivers can result in altered flows, riverbank erosion, lower water tables, trash wetlands and decimate fisheries. UNEP researcher Pascal Peduzzi says that the impact is much worse because “a lack of proper scientific methodology for river sand mining has led to indiscriminate sand mining, while weak governance and corruption have led to widespread illegal mining.”

However, the world is slowly waking up to this ongoing catastrophe. In a recent case in India, a teenager from a fishing village posted a video of how excavators had invaded her community and the devastation that ensued. Luckily her video went viral and the issue attracted nationwide attention.

In an in-depth article for Yale Environment 360, Fred Pearce details the findings of a global investigation into sand mining.

In recent years, as I have travelled the world looking at environmental issues, sand mining has kept appearing out of the corner of my eye. Always there, but rarely the main story. While in Kerala in August, researching the environmental factors behind recent floods, I found that sand is dredged from local rivers 40 times faster than the rivers can replace it. Riverbeds have been lowered by around 6 feet as a result.

Click here to read the full article at e360.yale.edu

Humanosity has produced a special report that looks at this issue across the world. It contains great articles, videos and podcasts all handpicked by our editorial team. Click on the button below to check it out.

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