Is sand mining the largest extractive industry in the world?

Thursday, March 10, 2022
By Lisa Freedland

Comprising 85% of mining extractions worldwide, sand mining is currently the world's largest mining endeavor. The United Nations Environment Program estimates that more than 40 billion tons of the sediment are extracted every year.

This amount far exceeds that of the most mined minerals: coal and iron. Approximately 7.4 and 4.6 billion tons of coal and iron are extracted every year, respectively. Oil extraction totals around 4 billion metric tons annually.

The largest use of sand is in infrastructure materials such as concrete, cement, glass and asphalt, fueled by the 21st century construction boom. As much as seven tons of sand and gravel are required to make one ton of concrete.

Due to weak regulations in many places, sand is being mined unsustainably, eroding coastlines, disrupting ecosystems and causing islands to sink into the ocean.

This fact brief is responsive to conversations such as this one.
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