Quantification of anthropogenic metabolism using spatially differentiated continuous MFA

Coefficient-based, bottom-up material flow analysis is a suitable tool to quantify inflows, outflows and stock dynamics of materials used by societies, and thus can deliver strategic knowledge needed to develop circular economy policies. Anthropogenic stocks and flows are mostly of bulk nonmetallic mineral materials related to the construction, operation and demolition of buildings and infrastructures. Consequently, it is important to be able to quantify circulating construction materials to help estimate the mass of secondary materials which can be recovered such as recycled aggregates (RA) for fresh concrete in new buildings. Yet as such bulk materials are high volume but of low unit value, they are generally produced and consumed within a region. Loops are thus bounded not only by qualitative and technical restrictions but also spatially to within regions. This paper presents a regionalized continuous MFA (C-MFA) approach taking account of these restrictions of local consumption, quality standards and technical limitations, illustrated using the example of Germany. Outflows and inflows of stocks are quantified at county level and generalized by regional type, considering demand and supply for recycled materials. Qualitative and technical potentials of recycling loops are operationalized by defining coefficients to reflect waste management technologies and engineering standards. Results show that 48% of outflows of concrete and bricks are suitable for high-quality recycling, while 52% of outflows do not fulfill the quality requirement and must be recovered or disposed of elsewhere. The achievable inflow to RA is limited by the building activity as well as the requirements of the construction industry, e.g. the RA fraction of fresh concrete must not exceed 32%. In addition, there exist spatial disparities in construction across the country. In Germany, such disparities mean that there will be a shortfall in RA of 6.3 Gt by the year 2020, while the technically available but unusable RA (due to a regional mismatch of potential supply and demand) will total 3.2 Gt. Comprehensive recycling strategies have to combine high-quality recycling with other lower-grade applications for secondary raw materials. Particularly in the case of building materials, essential constraints are not only technical but also local conditions of construction and demolition. These interrelations should be identified and integrated into a comprehensive system to manage the social metabolism of materials in support of circular economy policies.