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Measuring Progress towards a Circular Economy: A Monitoring Framework for Economy‐wide Material Loop Closing in the EU28

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      The concept of a circular economy (CE) is gaining increasing attention from policy makers, industry, and academia. There is a rapidly evolving debate on definitions, limitations, the contribution to a wider sustainability agenda, and a need for indicators to assess the effectiveness of circular economy measures at larger scales. Herein, we present a framework for a comprehensive and economy‐wide biophysical assessment of a CE, utilizing and systematically linking official statistics on resource extraction and use and waste flows in a mass‐balanced approach. This framework builds on the widely applied framework of economy‐wide material flow accounting and expands it by integrating waste flows, recycling, and downcycled materials. We propose a comprehensive set of indicators that measure the scale and circularity of total material and waste flows and their socioeconomic and ecological loop closing. We applied this framework in the context of monitoring efforts for a CE in the European Union (EU28) for the year 2014. We found that 7.4 gigatons (Gt) of materials were processed in the EU and only 0.71 Gt of them were secondary materials. The derived input socioeconomic cycling rate of materials was therefore 9.6%. Further, of the 4.8 Gt of interim output flows, 14.8% were recycled or downcycled. Based on these findings and our first efforts in assessing sensitivity of the framework, a number of improvements are deemed necessary: improved reporting of wastes, explicit modeling of societal in‐use stocks, introduction of criteria for ecological cycling, and disaggregated mass‐based indicators to evaluate environmental impacts of different materials and circularity initiatives.

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          The material footprint of nations.

          Metrics on resource productivity currently used by governments suggest that some developed countries have increased the use of natural resources at a slower rate than economic growth (relative decoupling) or have even managed to use fewer resources over time (absolute decoupling). Using the material footprint (MF), a consumption-based indicator of resource use, we find the contrary: Achievements in decoupling in advanced economies are smaller than reported or even nonexistent. We present a time series analysis of the MF of 186 countries and identify material flows associated with global production and consumption networks in unprecedented specificity. By calculating raw material equivalents of international trade, we demonstrate that countries' use of nondomestic resources is, on average, about threefold larger than the physical quantity of traded goods. As wealth grows, countries tend to reduce their domestic portion of materials extraction through international trade, whereas the overall mass of material consumption generally increases. With every 10% increase in gross domestic product, the average national MF increases by 6%. Our findings call into question the sole use of current resource productivity indicators in policy making and suggest the necessity of an additional focus on consumption-based accounting for natural resource use.

            Author and article information

            [ 1 ] Institute of Social Ecology (SEC), Department of Economics and Social Sciences University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) Vienna Austria
            [ 2 ] German Environment Agency (UBA) Dessau‐Roßlau Germany
            [ 3 ] European Commission Directorate‐General Joint Research Centre Sustainable Resources Directorate Ispra Italy
            Author notes
            [* ] Address correspondence to: Gian Andrea Blengini, European Commission Directorate‐General Joint Research Centre Sustainable Resources Directorate, Unit D3 – Land Resources, Via Enrico Fermi 2749, Ispra, VA 21027, Italy. Email: gianandrea.blengini@
            J Ind Ecol
            J Ind Ecol
            Journal of Industrial Ecology
            John Wiley and Sons Inc. (Hoboken )
            25 September 2018
            February 2019
            : 23
            : 1 ( doiID: 10.1111/jiec.2019.23.issue-1 )
            : 62-76
            6472471 10.1111/jiec.12809 JIEC12809
            © 2018 The Authors. Journal of Industrial Ecology, published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc., on behalf of Yale University.

            This is an open access article under the terms of the License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

            Figures: 5, Tables: 3, Pages: 15, Words: 10573
            Funded by: Austrian Science Fund
            Award ID: P27590
            Funded by: Joint Research Centre
            Award ID: CT‐EX2016D288092‐101‐1
            Research and Analysis
            Research and Analysis
            Custom metadata
            February 2019
            Converter:WILEY_ML3GV2_TO_NLMPMC version: mode:remove_FC converted:03.04.2019


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