Material Flow Analysis and Waste Management

Material flow analysis (MFA, also known as Material Flow Accounting) has become one of the basic tools in industrial ecology, since its pioneering development by Ayres. This chapter reviews progress in MFA with emphasis on the use of MFA to support waste management and recycling policy. Waste statistics are compiled in most developed and some developing countries, but the basis is insufficiently standardized so that care is needed in making comparisons between countries. This also applies to recycling flows, which are difficult to define and quantify. Waste arising from demolition can be predicted by dynamic modeling which also predicts future resource demand, but the discrepancies between predicted and reported waste quantities can be large due to “missing” or “dissipated” stock. Metals represent an important and valuable component of waste; metals in end-of-life vehicles and e-waste in particular need to be quantified for their recycling and ecological and human health impact assessment. MFA has also been applied to international trade of secondhand products containing metals. MFA studies on phosphorus have revealed potential ways to increase recovery that go beyond recycling from obvious wastes. Analysis of stocks must be an important topic in coming decades. Policies designed to move the economy towards “circularity” have been promoted in some countries, including China and Japan, as practical manifestations of the industrial ecology paradigm. In China, the link to MFA was only recognized some years after the introduction of the policy, whereas in Japan MFA was accepted from the outset. Measures are being advocated, for example by the OECD, to improve the comparability of MFA across different data sources. Input-output analysis is increasingly applied to estimate and represent material flows. In general, MFA has matured to the point where it is now mandated as a tool for national and international policy. But further expansion and integration are expected.