A continued global shortage of sand is delaying property developments, straining project budgets and forcing some construction companies to scramble to find alternative solutions. Sand scarcity has been a growing problem over the past decade, due to the continued growth of the world’s population and the increase in the number of people moving to urban areas. A recent construction outlook report from JLL found that the US construction industry is experiencing “rapid price growth” in the price of sand, and is not expected to drop anytime soon. According to Stanford University, the price of sand has more than doubled in recent decades, from $4 per ton 31 years ago to the current price of $10 per ton.

Concrete, one of the most widely used materials in the construction world, is created primarily from sand. It is used to construct buildings, bridges, roads and is also used in cosmetics and computer chips. In fact, sand is the most consumed commodity in the world, after water. However, meeting the demand has been a challenge. The type of sand used in construction is mined from the beds of rivers, lakes and beaches, and the growing demand for this material is causing an environmental crisis in some places where mining is common. And because sand is an unregulated business, the relentless demand for the key material has led to violence, death and “sand mafias”.

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There are alternatives to using sand in the construction process. One is solid wood, a material that has grown in popularity in recent years. Another is crushed rock, which is already used in the United States, Europe and China where it is the main source of aggregates. A third option is to recycle waste from construction and demolition sites such as concrete or masonry. A United Nations Environment Program report released earlier this year on sand shortages recommended better regulations and standards for sand mining to protect riverbeds and coastlines. “If we can master the management of the most mined solids in the world, we can avoid a crisis and move to a circular economy,” said Pascal Peduzzi of UNEP. While prices aren’t coming down anytime soon for the construction world, it’s an encouraging sign that influential organizations are making sand shortages a priority.

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