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Material Resources, Productivity and the Environment

image of Material Resources, Productivity and the Environment

Improving resource productivity and ensuring a sustainable resource and materials management building on the principle of the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) is a central element of green growth policies. It helps to improve the environment, by reducing the amount of resources that the economy requires and diminishing the associated environmental impacts, and sustain economic growth by securing adequate supplies of materials and improving competitiveness. To be successful such policies need to be founded on a good understanding of how minerals, metals, timber or other materials flow through the economy throughout their life cycle, and of how this affects the productivity of the economy and the quality of the environment. This report contributes to this understanding. It describes the material basis of OECD economies and provides a factual analysis of material flows and resource productivity in OECD countries in a global context. It considers the production and consumption of materials, as well as their international flows and available stocks, and the environmental implications associated with their use. It also describes some of the challenges and opportunities associated with selected materials and products that are internationally-significant, both in economic and environmental terms (aluminium, copper, iron and steel, paper, phosphate rock and rare earth elements).

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Rare earth elements factsheet

From relatively obscurity rare earth elements have grown to become essential components in a wide range of high tech, alternative energy and military applications. Although crustally abundant, concentrations that can be economically extracted are rare. China’s dominance over global supplies in the face of rising global demand are raising fears of shortages that risk disrupting economies and derailing green growth plans. As with other metals, refining rare earths is energyand water-intensive, with added complexity due to their similar chemical properties. While there is renewed interest in 3R and circular economy approaches, the recycling and reuse of rare earths remains uneconomic and remains near zero.

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