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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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The material basis of the global economy

This chapter examines global trends in material flows and resource productivity using tools from Material Flow Analysis (MFA) and data from Material Flow Accounting (see the Reader’s Guide for data sources). In MFA, the term "materials" is often used in a broad sense, so as to encompass all material-related flows arising at all stages of the material cycle. It refers to both materials and products derived from natural resources that are used as inputs into human activities, as well as residuals (such as waste or pollutant emissions) arising from their extraction and use, and ecosystem inputs (such as nutrients, carbon dioxide, and oxygen) required for their extraction and use. Here the focus is on “material resources” that designate the usable materials or substances (raw materials, energy) produced from natural resources. These usable "materials" include energy carriers (gas, oil, coal), metal ores and metals, construction minerals and other minerals, soil and biomass. Ecosystem inputs and pollutant outputs are not considered.

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