Why You Should Think Twice Before Taking Sand Home as a Souvenir

Sand is more scarce than you may think.

People love scooping up some sand from a memorable tropical vacation to stick in jars and decorate their home, but even a few seemingly harmless handfuls can result in a lot of damage for the environment—and even you! Don’t be nervous yet. We don’t mean the small amounts that you accidentally bring home between your toes and stuck to your swimsuit. It’s the instances where you may bring a container or plastic bag to carry some off the beach with you as a souvenir (which hopefully you don’t do very often.) Keep reading to see why removing sand from the beach is a huge mistake.

Taking sand is illegal in some places

Sand is beautiful and it may be tempting to grab a little, but did you know that it is actually against the law in some places to take sand? This law is definitely not common knowledge for many tourists, but there are places that do take it seriously. Last summer, a French couple faced up to six years in prison for removing sand from a beach they were vacationing at in Sardinia. This Italian island protects their white sand by fining visitors and even threatening jail time for the crime.

In Hawaii, taking sand from beaches such as Papakolea Beach and Punalu’u Beach can cost a tourist up to $100,000 in fines. In Crete, the “pink beach” known as Elafonisi had such an issue with visitors taking sand that the government claimed the area as a nature reserve. The beach is noticeably less pink than it used to be due to humans snagging a little souvenir. While this may sound excessive and possibly even amusing, taking sand is illegal from beaches all over the world. As a reminder of why we want to keep the beauty of beaches alive, check out these stunning photos of pink sand beaches around the world.

Why would someone want to take sand?

Removing pounds of sand from the beach may sound like a completely unreasonable souvenir for some tourists, but it’s actually connected to a growing black market where people trade sand on the Internet for various purposes like skincare, concrete production, or just growing rare collections including black volcanic sands and pink sands.

Governments all over are regulating sand mining and concrete production, but these regulations have led to this underground market. In fact, India’s strongest criminal organization is the Sand Mafia. Illegal sand generates around $2.3 billion dollars each year and employs 75,000 people in India. Since this business is restricted, many divers who collect the sand are severely underpaid and work long hours leading to injury and death which consequently go unreported.

Is the world running out of sand?

This goes beyond underground, money-making initiatives. The world is actually running out of sand. According to a report from Business Insider in 2018, 67 percent of the beaches in Southern California will have disappeared by the year 2100. Think of all the growing cities with new buildings made of concrete, the furniture where you sit and even the screen you are reading this on that are made from sand. It may seem impossible with all of our beaches, deserts, and oceans, but humans are consuming more sand than the planet can produce.

The whole world uses approximately 50 billion tons of sand each year. This is our most used natural resource, following air and water. Yes, we use sand even more than oil. Humans are abusing its availability to the point where it will one day be gone. This includes rocks, seashells, and anything from nature. In Thailand, you can be fined hundreds of dollars for taking coral because people taking what they want from nature can significantly change landscapes and ecosystems.

If you want to still be able to enjoy our beautiful beaches a few years from now, we need to do everything we can to protect them. Leave the sand where it belongs and opt for a nice keychain or refrigerator magnet instead.


  • CNN Travel: “Couple face up to six years in jail for taking sand from Italian beach”
  • Business Insider: “The world is running out of sand — and there’s a black market for it now”
  • Afar: “That Sand You Brought Back From Vacation? Totally Illegal”

Emma Taubenfeld
Emma Taubenfeld is a former assistant editor for Reader’s Digest who writes about digital lifestyle topics such as memes, social media captions, pickup lines and cute pets. When she’s not working, you can find Emma reading corny young adult novels, creating carefully curated playlists and figuring out how to spice up boxed mac and cheese.