Sustainable Materials Management

December 9th, 2020

The challenge

Measuring material extraction, consumption, waste and emissions in the Australian economy requires comprehensive material flow accounts.

Australia extracted 2.4 billion tonnes of materials in 2017, with resource extraction rapidly expanding at a rate of 3.8% per year over the last decade. During the same period, Australia became the World’s largest net-exporter of primary materials, a total of 1.3 billion tonnes in 2016. This rapid expansion of material use translates into rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions and requirements for waste disposal. Materials productivity, a key indicator under the Sustainable Development Goals framework, has stagnated. The task for Australia is to decouple material use, waste and emissions from economic activity and human wellbeing outcomes. This will achieve a double benefit of cost savings and reduced environmental impacts.

To that end, we can only manage what we can measure. It is important to be have a robust and reliable evidence base to support policy development, investment decisions, and to monitor sustainable materials management in Australia.

Material flow accounts have been used by many countries to provide an early indication of where environmental pressures are building. By providing data on material use, waste and emissions in one coherent framework, they simultaneously inform diverse as well as highly interconnected policy issues. The policy objectives of resource efficiency, waste minimisation and greenhouse gas abatement are interconnected and policy needs to manage synergies and trade-offs.

Our response

CSIRO is providing critical information about Australia’s use of materials to inform decision making and enable sustainable management of materials.

CSIRO has developed Australia’s Material Flow Accounts in collaboration with the Federal Department of Environment, creating a comprehensive dataset for material extraction and trade, waste and emissions for the four decades from 1970 to 2017. The results are presented in a report and provide an evidence base against which Australia’s achievements and challenges in materials management can be assessed.

CSIRO has also developed a novel approach to estimating the quantity of secondary materials that are recycled in Australia, and reused in manufacturing and construction activities, where they can replace primary materials. This allows us to assess how successful Australia has been in creating a circular economy, diverting waste from landfill to instead add value to the same material multiple times.