Shortage of Sand

What This Means for Builders and the Construction Industry The global demand for sand is currently standing at a massive 40-50 billion tonnes per year, with demand growing each year. Reports from the UN say that increased demand has led to river pollution, flooding, and a rising black market trade, all stemming from the insatiable […]

AL Blair Shortage of Sand

What This Means for Builders and the Construction Industry

The global demand for sand is currently standing at a massive 40-50 billion tonnes per year, with demand growing each year.

Reports from the UN say that increased demand has led to river pollution, flooding, and a rising black market trade, all stemming from the insatiable global demand for sand.

With a sand shortage looming and concerns over how to mitigate the problem, we are stuck at a crossroads. Where do we go from here? What has this shortage done to the construction industry?

Keep reading to find out how COVID changed the construction industry and the options you have for better building practices.

The Skyrocketing Demand For Sand

We have built our entire society on the foundation of sand. After water, it’s the world’s most utilised raw commodity and is a crucial part of our daily lives. Sand is the most common material used to build roads, bridges, high-speed trains, and even land reclamation projects.

The glass in your windows, computer screens, smartphones and even home decor comes from crushed sand, gravel, and rock. Sand is even used to manufacture silicon chips, which are a primary part of computer circuitry.

It’s no wonder there is such a demand, as technology and modern living grow and evolve and the environment can’t keep up. But urbanisation, with its need for concrete, is driving the demand for sand. As populations grow, urbanisation will only fuel the global construction boom.

What the Sand Shortage Means For The Construction Industry

With a lack of supply, materials and resources will become more expensive. And, as supply pressure grows, it’s likely we’ll see smaller businesses struggling to keep up.

Construction industries will vie for suppliers, who will potentially become unable to keep up with the demand. We could companies looking for dynamic alternatives. The latter can only be a good thing, as larger companies could aim to invest in the research for alternatives.

How Has COVID Affected The Construction Industry

The construction industry suffered when COVID-19 struck, with government directives halting construction work sooner than expected in 2020. While many workers have now been able to return, the industry has yet to fully recover.

While the pandemic created a strong sense of unity, even in the construction industry, many contractors could not source materials, like sand, cement, and bricks. Add to this the fact that only those who entered the pandemic with a strong balance sheet were able to easily navigate the turbulence that arose.

Those who had business across various geographical and business sectors learned the most, telling us we need diversity in order to survive.

Sand Alternatives For Construction

While we may think there are thousands of miles of desert to work with, desert sand is actually not ideal for construction, as it is not durable enough for slurry slip and concrete. Thankfully, there are several sand alternatives we can lean on, though widespread use of these is still fairly minimal. Some options available to us are:

  • Copper slag
  • Granulated blast furnace slag
  • Bottom ash
  • Quarry dust
  • Foundry sand
  • Construction and demolition waste

Some of these alternatives are more sustainable than others. Eventually, quarry dust won’t be enough to keep up with demand, and bottom ash is reliant on waste produced by thermal power plants and incinerators.

Some of our best options rely on the repurposing of existing materials. Because of this, recycling could be a significant contributor to combatting the worldwide sand shortages.

How To Prevent Further Sand Depletion

Society is just too dependent on the sand to abandon it entirely. Recycling sand could be a good option, but there are, of course, drawbacks to this. It might be costly, and utilising previously used concrete isn’t as good as using new sand.

Asphalt can also be recycled and utilised in some applications as a substitute. Other alternatives to sand include wood or straw, although these are unlikely to become more popular than concrete.

As our population and cities develop, sand will continue to disappear. The first step to preventing sand depletion is to become aware of the issue. The next stages will be to extend the life of sand goods, recycle them, and look at other items that could replace sand.

Tips For Maintaining Construction Supplies

While the shortage of sand continues to be a dilemma, there are things you can do closer to home that will streamline your business and give it a fighting chance. Whether that’s investing in recycled materials or changing how you do things.

Optimize Building Process

The benefits of optimizing the building process certainly outweigh the amount of initial planning required. A greater reliance on shop drawings, pre-construction plans, and project budgets will see less material waste and a quicker turnaround time, allowing for the growth of a new business.

Review Changes In Cost And Supply For Raw Materials

As supply and demand rise or fall, it’s important to keep track of where your materials are coming from, and how much they’re costing you. While recycled materials may be more expensive off the bat, you’ll save money in the long run as demand increases.

Don’t be afraid to change suppliers as needed and ensure all your equipment and supplies are in good working order to ensure speedy production.

Consider Design Changes

To extend the life of a structure, construction standards should be raised, and as many building materials as possible should be recycled. When a building doesn’t require as much maintenance, there will be a steady decline in the demand for materials, which are better served to go into new builds.


We mentioned briefly that businesses that had a diverse portfolio of geographical clients saw more success during COVID, so we know that location plays a big role in how well a company will perform.

Consider expanding your portfolio and ensure you’re sourcing materials from a diverse platform of locations. Diversity in location is good on all fronts of a business because if one side falls down, the others remain to prop the business up.

The Takeaway

While the sand shortage will continue to be a growing cause for concern, not all is lost. There is still plenty of research going into finding more sustainable options to combat the world sand shortage, and you can work around any problems by taking an adaptable approach.

One of the key things you can do is ensure you’re working with a trustworthy supplier, so contact us today and let’s see what we can build together.


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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