The Impact of Pandemic Hobbies on Shipping

The surprising way at-home hobbies have driven growth in non-metallic minerals shipments

Pandemic Hobbies MAIN

How non-metallic minerals are doing their part to keep people entertained at home.


The COVID-19 pandemic has changed so many things: the way we work, the way we learn, the way we gather for holidays. But it has also changed the moments in between work, school and celebration: it has affected our downtime, too. With social distancing in place, there is less recreating outside of the home at places like bars, restaurants and movie theaters, causing people to take up more hobbies at home. And while peoples’ creativity and ingenuity are helping to keep them entertained while homebound, a spike in rail shipments reveals another surprising element is doing its part to help: non-metallic minerals. Here’s how they play a part in the products you rely on for at-home entertainment.


Perlite Pandemic Hobiies


What is perlite?
Perlite is a naturally occurring volcanic glass with a very special property: When it’s heated to 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, it expands to 13 times its former size. The resulting material is very lightweight and is comprised of tiny air pockets, making it excellent at absorbing moisture. If you’ve ever purchased potting soil and noticed those little white balls that help keep the soil moist, that’s perlite.

What role does perlite play in pandemic hobbies?
Perlite plays a role in several at home hobbies, including:

  • Gardening. Perlite is an ingredient in the potting soil you buy and those little pots of flowers and veggies you plant.
  • Pet ownership. Although scooping the cat litter isn’t the most exciting part of pet ownership, it’s a necessary one. Perlite is a key ingredient in helping that litter be absorbent.
  • Home remodeling. People have spent so much time at home it’s had them itching to make changes. Perlite is used in many construction materials thanks to its lightweight and fire retardant properties, including lightweight building materials, dry wall mud, concrete and mortar that can help you switch up your all-too-familiar scenery.

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous Earth Pandemic Hobiies

Diatomaceous earth

What is diatomaceous earth?
Diatoms are a major group of algae whose skeletons are made of silica. When, over a long period of time, the fossils of those diatoms accumulated in the sediment of rivers, streams, lakes and oceans, it formed siliceous rocks (sedimentary rocks containing silica). When this rock is crumbled into a fine powder, it is called diatomaceous earth.

What role does diatomaceous earth play in pandemic hobbies?
Diatomaceous earth may be comprised of fossils, but it plays a role in keeping plants, trees and spirits alive!

  • Houseplants. If the pandemic has you sprouting a green thumb, diatomaceous earth is important to you, as it’s often used in the soil for potted plants and trees, like bonsai.
  • Beverages. If your idea of kicking back and relaxing includes throwing back a beer or sipping a glass of wine, you should be a fan of diatomaceous earth, which is used in beverage filtration.


Vermiculite Pandemic Hobiies


What is vermiculite?
Vermiculite looks like mica and refers to a group of hydrated laminar minerals (aluminum-iron magnesium silicates). Like perlite, it expands when heated. But instead of turning into little white balls, when horticultural vermiculite is processed with massive heat the resulting pellets are accordion shaped and are comprised of multiple layers of thin plates. And they’re resilient — they won’t rot, mold or deteriorate. They’re also odorless, non-toxic and sterile.

What role does vermiculite play in pandemic hobbies?
Vermiculite may be flaky, but it plays a solid role in stay-at-home activities.

  • Horticulture. Vermiculite is found in potting soil but can also be purchased on its own. Plant enthusiasts can choose from four sizes depending on their goal: The smallest size can be used for germinating seeds and the largest can be used to aerate soil.
  • Adding on to your home. Vermiculite is also used in construction materials. So if staying at home has you itching for a little more space, vermiculite will do its part in the materials you need to build an addition.


Epsom Salts Pandemic Hobiies

Magnesite is a key ingredient in Epsom salt

What is magnesite?
Magnesite is a magnesium carbonate mineral. Its composition contains magnesium, thus the name. Magnesite is usually formed when magnesium-rich rocks or carbonate rocks are altered by metamorphism (when the composition or structure of a rock is altered by heat, pressure, or another natural element) or chemical weathering.

What role does magnesite play in pandemic hobbies?
Perhaps the thing everyone needs most to forget about the madness of the pandemic is a nice, long soak in the tub. As a key ingredient in Epsom salt, magnesite has your back. Just say, “magnesite, take me away!”

How Do These Minerals Arrive to You?

Before non-metallic minerals show up to your home as key components of products that support your pandemic hobbies, they make an important stop at manufacturing plants and processing facilities. How do they get there? By rail. In fact, since the pandemic, rail shipments of non-metallic minerals have seen a spike, as more people spend their free time at home and demand for these products has increased.

Why rail? Freight rail is perfectly suited to ship large quantities of non-metallic minerals (and other products, too!), especially to distant markets. Rail typically offers a lower cost per ton mile than truck, and one rail car can carry the same amount of cargo as 3-4 trucks, making it both economical and efficient. It’s environmentally friendly, too, since trains generate a carbon footprint that is 75 percent less than trucks. And thanks to transloading, neither shipper nor receiver need tracks at their facility to ship by rail.

Learn More

Do you ship non-metallic minerals…or other commodities? Get in touch to learn how you can improve your shipping strategy with rail.

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