Material flow analysis to progress to a circular economy

March 5th, 2024

Our report details Australia’s material use, highlighting opportunities to transition to a more circular and sustainable economy.

circular pattern with sky in the background

The challenge

Material flow analysis links human consumption patterns and the environment. Understanding material flows can help to better comprehend the environmental consequences of economic activities and how best to manage resource efficiency, waste minimisation, and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Australian economy uses four times the materials to fulfil each person’s needs compared with the world average. This is unsustainable.

Our response

We have published a report – Australian material flow analysis to progress to a circular economy. The report used data on economy-wide material flows for 2019 to provide insights into Australia’s circular economy potential.

It shows Australia’s circularity rate has increased marginally, from 3.5 per cent in 2015, to now closer to 4 per cent. This is half the global average. However, over the last decade, Australia has successfully reduced its material footprint, increased its circularity rate, and curbed air emissions.

Key findings from the report:

  • The circularity rate of Australia is around 4 per cent. We calculated the maximum theoretical circularity rate achievable for Australia under today’s economic structure to be 32 per cent.
  • Transport and housing make up more than half of Australia’s material footprint, followed by food, highlighting circular economy opportunities in a range of sectors.
  • In 2019, Australia extracted and harvested 2,587 million tonnes of materials. These virgin materials were supplemented with 119 million tonnes of imports and 39 million tonnes of domestically recycled materials. More than half of these materials were exported to other countries.
  • Australia currently recycles 39 million tonnes of materials, which is about half of all materials captured through municipal, industrial, and construction waste schemes. The other half is going to landfill.


The report highlights the importance of efficiencies to how we measure, process, and use materials, and opportunities to transition to a more circular and sustainable economy.

Australia could double its circularity rate if it were to employ circular economy opportunities in housing, mobility, food and energy provision.

To bolster circularity, we need to rethink how we use materials, from designing products that use less material to schemes that extend the lifetime of products. Adopting circular economy principles would result in cleaner air, soil, and water. Less material being extracted and ending up in landfill would improve resource efficiency, reduce pollution, and avoid greenhouse gas emissions.

Material use is the single largest determinant of energy use and emissions, responsible for over 50 per cent of global warming, and therefore serves as a big lever to reduce emissions.

The re-use and recycling of goods would also provide longevity for goods and foster local jobs.

This project is supported with funding from the Australian Government under the National Environmental Science Program.



Our 45-minute webinar details the findings from the report. Watch it here.

Presenters include Alessio Miatto, CSIRO lead author, Heinz Schandl, CSIRO Circular Economy for Missions Lead, and Paul Klymenko, Planet Ark Chief Sustainability Advisor.

CSIRO Alessio Miatto headshot

Alessio Miatto

Senior Research Scientist