, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 112-120

Material flow indicators to measure progress toward a sound material-cycle society

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Abstract

This article reviews recent progress in material flow analysis and its use in providing resource productivity indicators and is based on developments in Japanese policy toward a sound material-cycle society and in international forums such as within the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation, covering both institutional and methodological issues. Indicators derived from economy-wide material flow accounts such as direct material inputs are useful to demonstrate the absolute size of a physical economy and to reinforce the need to both reduce consumption of natural resources and limit waste generation. Interpretation of material flows as resources and potential environmental impacts is discussed, and linkages between the size of material flows and specific environmental impacts and damage must be further elaborated for use in environmental policy. Lessons learned from the practical use of resource productivity indicators are also discussed. Additional indicators are needed that can be used to evaluate the performance of microeconomic contributors. The need for an integrated approach that links upstream resource issues and downstream waste issues through the 3Rs concept or the circular economy/society concept is attracting increasing attention. Consequently, the accumulation of reliable scientific knowledge and data in this field in a fully international context is essential.