European Environment Agency (EEA)

Material resources and waste — SOER 2010 thematic assessment


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Why do we care about material resource use and waste?
Natural resources — in the form of materials we extract (such as fossil fuels, metal ores, and construction and industrial minerals), water, the soil and land we use, and renewable materials and biomass we harvest — are essential for the functioning of societies and economies.

Several of these are covered in detail in other SOER 2010 thematic assessments (for a full list, see inside of front cover), so this assessment considers resource use in the most macroeconomic sense, focusing on physical flows of materials in the economy, as defined in Eurostat's Material Flow Accounting framework (MFA). Throughout the text, the terms 'material resources' or 'materials' will be used whenever referring to MFA-based use of resources expressed in tonnes (see Box 1.1 for details). The use of energy, added for comparison and covered only to a limited degree here, is expressed in energy units and not in terms of mass. This assessment covers the EU‑15, the EU‑12 Member States and, where information is available, illustrates the situation in the Western Balkans and other countries for comparison.

The use of material resources and the generation of waste are two sides of the same coin (see Box 1.2). The two issues share many of the same driving forces — the materials we use and the concomitant wastes are closely linked to how we produce and consume goods. The massive international trade in material resources and, on a much smaller scale, the trade in waste both require life-cycle thinking and a global perspective to take into account burden shifting across borders. Also policy responses often reinforce one another, as demonstrated by the Sixth Environment Action Programme's (6EAP) aim of decoupling resource use and waste generation from economic growth. Full-cost resource pricing,  promoting resource efficiency and innovation, ensuring policy coherence and closing resource use and waste loops are just some of the common threads of both policy areas (see Table 4.3).

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