Very few people are looking closely at the illegal sand system or calling for changes, however, because sand is a mundane resource. Yet sand mining is the world’s largest extraction industry because sand is a main ingredient in concrete, and the global construction industry has been soaring for decades. Every year the world uses up
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Very few people are looking closely at the illegal sand system or calling for changes, however, because sand is a mundane resource. Yet sand mining is the world’s largest extraction industry because sand is a main ingredient in concrete, and the global construction industry has been soaring for decades. Every year the world uses up to 50 billion metric tons of sand, according to a United Nations Environment Program report. The only natural resource more widely consumed is water. A 2022 study by researchers at the University of Amsterdam concluded that we are dredging river sand at rates that far outstrip nature’s ability to replace it, so much so that the world could run out of construction-grade sand by 2050. The U.N. report confirms that sand mining at current rates is unsustainable.
Most sand gets used in the country where it is mined, but with some national supplies dwindling, imports reached $1.9 billion in 2018, according to Harvard’s Atlas of Economic Complexity.
Companies large and small dredge up sand from waterways and the ocean floor and transport it to wholesalers, construction firms and retailers. Even the legal sand trade is hard to track. Two experts estimate the global market at about $100 billion a year, yet the U.S. Geological Survey Mineral Commodity Summaries indicates the value could be as high as $785 billion. Sand in riverbeds, lake beds and shorelines is the best for construction, but scarcity opens the market to less suitable sand from beaches and dunes, much of it scraped illegally and cheaply. With a shortage looming and prices rising, sand from Moroccan beaches and dunes is sold inside the country and is also shipped abroad, using organized crime’s extensive transport networks, Abderrahmane has found. More than half of Morocco’s sand is illegally mined, he says.
Of course these are usually unowned, unpriced resources:
Luis Fernando Ramadon, a federal police specialist in Brazil who studies extractive industries, estimates that the global illegal sand trade ranges from $200 billion to $350 billion a year—more than illegal logging, gold mining and fishing combined. Buyers rarely check the provenance of sand; legal and black market sand look identical. Illegal mining rarely draws heat from law enforcement because it looks like legitimate mining—trucks, backhoes and shovels—there’s no property owner lodging complaints, and officials may be profiting. For crime syndicates, it’s easy money.
Economics, Law, Uncategorized