Thinking of redoing your patio for the summer? You may have to be patient and even increase your budget. For many months now, parts of the construction sector have been experiencing an unprecedented shortage of certain raw materials, leading to price increases of more than 20%, and longer waits.
But while materials are becoming more scarce, the moving season is getting underway, and our streets are filling up with furniture and various sorts of used items. Oh the possibilities...;)
Let’s try to better understand these shortages and what we can do about them!
What's causing these shortages of materials?
The pandemic is largely responsible. While in effect, forced closures slowed down supply chains. And then the sudden removal of restrictions created a sudden increase in demand, which caused prices to rise quickly. The increase in freight costs (by over 400% for shipping containers!) didn’t help.
Recent inflation and the war in Ukraine have also contributed to the rise in prices of some natural resources, and therefore materials. Prices can sometimes remain high even after the supply situation improves.
Which resources are most severely affected?
Wood (costs have increased in some cases by 300%), concrete, glass, aluminum and plumbing supplies. There has also been a sharp increase in the cost of recyclable materials, especially in the case of delivery boxes, which have seen exploding demand since the pandemic began. For example, the average per-tonne price of by-products from Quebec processing centres rose from $27 in January 2020 to $169 for January 2022!
What does this mean in concrete terms for Quebecers?
Ultimately, it’s the public that suffers the significant price increases and longer delivery times. It will be increasingly difficult to obtain materials, and not just for the construction industry. Almost every industry is affected by material shortages. There could be delivery delays for new vehicles, for example. And in a few years it is expected that beverage producers will have a hard time getting aluminum or glass, which could impact what we see on grocery store shelves.
So what's the solution? A circular economy and reduced consumption
Material shortages mask a deeper problem: waste. So many materials are wasted! Possible solutions are therefore to waste less, and promote reuse and repair. By reducing our need for materials we can help reduce the shortages.
The current linear economy is based on extraction, production, consumption and disposal. The circular economy, on the other hand, proposes reduction at source, more durable goods and reuse in order to shrink our environmental footprint.
In practical terms, what can be done by the construction industry?
Use eco-design practices. Think ahead of time about the environmental impact of buildings and construction projects. Seek to reduce the quantity of materials used and to optimize their lifespan;
Use second-hand materials or materials with a low environmental footprint and a long lifespan;
Deconstruct (rather than demolish!) in order to reuse as much original material as possible, as was done with Montreal’s Hippodrome and what is currently being done with the old Champlain Bridge. Some materials can also be reconditioned, for example using the Brique Recyc machine.
How to address and overcome these shortages
As individuals, we can buy second-hand instead of new. Shops selling used materials and online community sales sites have never been so accessible. You can find almost everything, not just clothes!
For example, second-hand materials are available at ÉcoRéno, your local ecocentre, the recycling centre in your area, or on private websites such as LesPAC.
Across Canada, nearly 2.4 billion second-hand items were reintroduced into the economy in 2018, representing transactions worth an equivalent of $27.3 billion 😊
Not only will the planet thank you, your wallet will too! On average, those who buy used goods save $744 per year!
Buying second-hand goods and giving your items a second life instead of throwing them away are concrete steps you can take to help address the garbage crisis.
As a citizen and a consumer, you also have a lot of power to help change the system in which we operate. For example, you can demand that the government take steps to improve access to repair by signing our petition: Demand more durable goods that are more easily repaired!