Editors’ Blog

Sensationalizing the global state of sand

By |  June 12, 2017
The New Yorker claimed the world is running out of sand in its May 29 edition. Photo courtesy of Superior Industries.

The New Yorker claimed the world is running out of sand in
its May 29 edition. Photo courtesy of Superior Industries.

The era of fake news is here, but one person’s definition of fake news tends to vary from another’s.

The pure fabrication of content by a news organization undoubtedly qualifies, but what other sorts of media trickery might fall into this category? I found myself exploring this question after scrolling through an article in the May 29 edition of The New Yorker. The article’s web headline read: “The world is running out of sand.”

Really? Running out of sand? Come on.

Arguably, the closest The New Yorker comes to making such a case is citing a 2014 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report titled “Sand, rarer than one thinks.” The UNEP report claims that sand and gravel mining “greatly exceeds natural renewable rates” and that “the amount being mined is increasing exponentially, mainly as a result of economic growth in Asia.”

That sand and gravel are being mined at higher rates these days does not equate to the extinction of minable sand, as the headline in The New Yorker would have its readers believe.

The world’s growing population, of course, demands an increasing number of tons of aggregate per year – sand included. But a number of points The New Yorker makes – that certain applications require specific types of sands; that sand is so scarce in some markets around the world that people kill for it; and that widespread desert sands really don’t have a human use – do not add up to the global end of usable sand.

In one section, The New Yorker even contradicts the question it poses in its headline, writing that “deposits of sand, gravel and stone can be found all over the United States.” The use of manufactured sand pokes holes in the publication’s argument, as well.

It’s one thing if The New Yorker wants to make an argument for better global management of sand, but an attempt at selling readers on the end of sand is sensationalist reporting.

Sustainable solutions

If the world wants sustainable solutions in the area of sand management, developments on the recycling front are one place to turn.

New data from the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA), for example, reveals that more than 74 million tons of reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) and 1.9 million tons of reclaimed asphalt shingles (RAS) were used in new asphalt pavement mixes across the United States in 2015. According to NAPA, RAP usage during the 2015 construction season is estimated to have reduced the need for 70.5 million tons of aggregate, while RAS usage that same season reduced the need for 965,500 tons of aggregate.

Yes, those figures only represent a fraction of all of the aggregate consumed each year across the U.S. The figures do, however, represent a significant step in the sustainable management of aggregate reserves, including sand.

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