Global Sand Shortage: What it Means for Aggregate Suppliers

Learn How Local Ottawa Sand and Gravel Suppliers Can Help Sand and gravel are some of the most extracted resources on Earth. Air and water excepted, we use sand more than any other natural resource. These aggregates are widely used because they are crucial ingredients for creating asphalt, concrete, and glass, the leading building materials […]

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Learn How Local Ottawa Sand and Gravel Suppliers Can Help

Sand and gravel are some of the most extracted resources on Earth. Air and water excepted, we use sand more than any other natural resource. These aggregates are widely used because they are crucial ingredients for creating asphalt, concrete, and glass, the leading building materials for urban development.

Construction industries around the globe rely on sand and gravel to build roads, highways, skyscrapers, homes, schools, hospitals, malls, pathways… the list goes on! If it needs glass, concrete, or asphalt, then it needs sand and gravel. For instance, add the creation of electronics and toothpaste to the list of uses for sand.

As useful as these aggregates are to our everyday lives, they may soon be a finite resource around the globe. The wide-ranging uses for sand and gravel have placed them in high demand over the years. Recently, the demand culminated in a global sand shortage. Without responsible, regulated mining, this shortage will only get worse, along with its many consequences.

Unregulated mining, expanding global populations, urban development, and the growing popularity of hydraulic fracturing “fracking” (shale gas extraction in oil sands) are among the causes of this global sand shortage. The high demand causes aggregate extraction at a much faster rate than the rate of natural renewal. Over-mining is also causing severe environmental degradation in unregulated mining industries.

And as the global population rises, the demand for these construction aggregates will only increase. This is why it’s important for construction industries to source from responsible and local pits and quarries. Choosing local Ottawa sand and gravel suppliers can help keep transportation costs and emissions down while sourcing this popular resource responsibly.

Causes of The Global Sand Shortage

As the world’s population grows, so does the demand for urban development. And aggregates are a key player in helping construction industries keep up with this demand.

Rapid Population Growth

Countries with rapidly growing populations, such as China and India, are using large amounts of aggregates to keep up with their need for rapid urban development. In the course of four years, China used more sand than the U.S. did throughout the entire 20th century.

Increasing Land Mass

Another potential solution to accommodate rapid population growth is to increase land mass with sand, For example, Singapore wants to increase its land mass by 20 percent. Large amounts of sand are also used to improve environments, such as with land reclamation and beach replacement.

Unregulated Mining

Countries with lax mining regulations are suffering from sand shortages and the devastating environmental effects of over-mining.

Over-mining has led to environmental degradation, such as land erosion and the collapse of riverbanks. When countries deplete their sand mines and quarries, they turn to sand found on beaches, in rivers, and on floodplains.

River sand mining in densely-populated countries, such as India, has devastated local environments. It is killing off bird and fish populations by disrupting natural ecosystems.

Elsewhere in the world, coral reefs are damaged, bridges are undermined, and entire islands and forests are disappearing from sand mining.

Bans on Mining

The environmental degradation of unregulated mining has led some countries to place a ban on sand mining, leading to further sand shortages. These shortages have turned sand into a commodity for organized crime, making sand and soil part of illegal trading markets where these resources are scarce.

Countries are depleting sand supplies at a faster rate than the natural renewal rate. This may seem surprising since the world appears to be full of sand, especially in our deserts. But desert sand does not work well for construction as it’s shaped by wind instead of water.

Stronger regulations may help avoid or prevent the devastating effects of unregulated mining. However, countries who enforce these regulations with responsible mining are facing obstacles for mining sand. Communities in North America are trying to halt sand mining, causing local sand shortages. This, in turn, poses challenges for construction industries and local economies.

Canada’s Sand Shortage

The oil sands fracking industry and countries who have already depleted their aggregate supplies are looking to Canada for sand and gravel. While this could boost the Canadian aggregate industry, some Canadian companies are facing their own sand shortage. Opposition continues to grow close to home due to opposition towards new quarries and pits.

Some U.S. and Canadian communities oppose mining near their homes, citing worries about noise and air pollution alongside decreased property values. This not-in-my-back-yard (NIMBY) opposition against new pits and quarries is contributing to local sand shortages, and will ultimately drive up the costs for aggregates and construction if builders have to source their materials from farther away.

Sand and gravel are very heavy resources, so transporting them from non-local sites will use plenty of fuel, hiking up transportation costs and fossil-fuel emissions. Along with more trucks on the road congesting traffic and polluting the air, increasing the costs of asphalt, concrete, and glass would hurt local economies.

Close to Home: The GTA Sand Shortage

The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) saw rapid urban and suburban development over the years. As a result, more residents live in increasingly closer proximity to sand and gravel pits that were once only on the rural outskirts of residential communities. Residents’ associations opposed to new extraction sites are concerned about noise and air pollution, and the negative affect these sites could have on their property values.

Applications for new sites have been shut down due to this opposition. Now the GTA faces its own sand shortage. But this shortage won’t stop urban development in the GTA, it will only make construction companies go elsewhere for aggregates.

While it’s easy to understand the NIMBY argument, sourcing from further away brings economic and environmental concerns. The demand for sand and gravel won’t go away.

Although we can’t stop what’s happening around the globe, we can choose to source aggregates responsibly. Choosing local Ottawa sand and gravel suppliers is a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly option. It helps build and support our ever-growing communities.

Jon Blair
Jon Blair is an integral part of the A.L. Blair Construction team, a company that has been setting high standards in the aggregate industry since 1932. With a heritage deeply rooted in Eastern Ontario, Jon is committed to delivering quality and reliability in every project.

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