Statistics Explained

Material flow accounts statistics - material footprints


Data from September 2021 (Italian data updated in May 2022)

Planned article update: November 2022

Highlights

EU's material footprint amounted to 14.6 tonnes per capita in 2019.

Figure 1: Raw material consumption (RMC) by main material categories, EU, 2000-2019 (tonnes per capita)
Source: Eurostat (env_ac_rme) (env_ac_mfa)

This article presents the global material footprints of European countries and the European Union (EU). Material footprints quantify the worldwide demand for material extractions (biomass, metal ores, non-metallic minerals and fossil energy materials/carriers) triggered by consumption and investment by households, governments and businesses in European countries and the EU, respectively.

Material footprints are estimated, using data from national accounts and material flow accounts. The latter are presented in more detail in the article 'material flow accounts and resource productivity'. Other related articles discuss resource productivity statistics and physical imports and exports. The modelling estimates presented in this article have a higher statistical uncertainty. </newarticle>

Full article

EU's material footprint by material category over time

Raw material consumption (RMC) of the EU – also referred to as material footprint – represents the total amount of extracted raw materials needed to produce the goods and services consumed by residents of the EU.

Figure 1 shows the development of the EU's material footprint or raw material consumption (RMC) over time. With around 18 tonnes per capita, the RMC peaked in the period 2007/2008 just before the global financial crisis. The latter induced a significant drop to a level of around 14 tonnes per capita. In 2019, the RMC was at 14.6 tonnes per capita, corresponding to approximately 6.5 billion tonnes.

Figure 1: Raw material consumption (RMC) by main material categories, EU, 2000-2019 (tonnes per capita)
Source: Eurostat (env_ac_rme) (env_ac_mfa)

Figure 1 shows EU’s material footprint RMC in a breakdown by four main material categories. Non-metallic minerals is the most important material category, the development of which highly is determined by the level of EU’s construction industries. Among the four material categories, RMC of fossil energy materials has been steadily decreasing by about 1 percent each year.

For comparison, Figure 1 includes the development of another important material flow indicator as a dotted line: domestic material consumption (DMC), which takes into account only those material flows directly used by the EU economy, i.e. excluding material footprints abroad. For the EU, both indicators show almost the same development, whereby the difference between RMC and DMC shows a decreasing trend. In 2019, it is 0.3 tonnes per capita. The maximum difference was in 2006 with 1.2 tonnes per capita.

Material footprint of European countries

Figure 2 presents material footprints or raw material consumption (RMC) for European countries. In 2019, eight countries remain below the EU value of 14.6 tonnes per capita. In twenty countries, the material footprint per capita is higher than the EU value.

Figure 2: Material footprint (RMC) by country, 2019 and 2010, tonnes per capita
Source: Eurostat (env_ac_rme)

The spread between the highest and lowest footprint is rather high with about 22 tonnes. Finland, Romania, Estonia and Luxembourg have the highest material footprints with around 28-29 tonnes per capita. The Netherlands has the lowest footprint with 7.4 tonnes per capita.

The development of RMC per capita for the countries shows a divers picture. Compared to 2010, fifteen countries have managed to reduce their material footprints over the years; six countries have spared more than a quarter of their material footprint. Thirteen European countries have seen an increase in RMC per capita. Romania’s footprint doubled over the years. Greece and Italy, in contrast, cut their footprint by around one third. In general, most Mediterranean countries have a lower material footprint in 2019 than in 2010. The material footprints of Austria, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and France are more or less on the same level as one decade ago.

EU’s material footprint vis-a-vis the rest of the world

Table 1 provides an overview on the material extraction and consumption in the EU vis-a-vis the rest of the world. For 2019, the worldwide material extraction is estimated to ca. 96.2 billion tonnes, of which 5.4 billion tonnes were extracted in EU (representing 5.6 % of worldwide material extraction). Ca. 1.4 billion tonnes of the EU material extraction is serving consumption in the rest of the world. The material footprint (RMC), that is all materials serving EU's consumption, is estimated to 6.5 billion tonnes, representing 6.8 % of worldwide material extraction. The material footprint of EU's consumption is composed of two parts: domestic material extraction (4.0 billion tonnes) and materials extracted outside the EU (2.5 billion tonnes).

Table 1: Material extraction and consumption in EU and non-EU rest of the world, 2019 (Billion tonnes).png
Source: Eurostat (env_ac_rme), www.materialflows.net

Raw material consumption by final use of products

The indicator RMC gives insight into the quantity and type of materials required to meet the EU's demand for final use of products. It can be further broken down by product and by type of final use to analyse which specific products and final uses drive material extraction.

Figure 3 presents the RMC in a breakdown by main material category and by the two main types of domestic final use; namely final consumption expenditure and gross capital formation (note: the term 'final use' indicates that intermediate consumption is excluded). Overall, 58 % of RMC is due to consumption expenditure, and thus 42 % of RMC is due to gross capital formation in 2019. When looking at respective monetary values this relation is 76 % to 24 %. Hence, the material intensity of gross capital formation is higher than that of final consumption expenditure. Cross capital formation in the form of investments in construction is an important driver of the extraction of non-metallic minerals. RMC of biomass and fossil energy materials is mainly driven by consumption expenditure.

Figure 3: Raw material consumption (RMC) as result of final consumption expenditure and gross capital formation, by type of material, EU, 2019 (tonnes per capita)
Source: Eurostat (env_ac_rmefd)

Table 2 shows in more detail which product groups are the main drivers of material extraction. In general, the product groups ranking highest for the different types of materials match what would be expected. One can clearly see the large impact of the product group 'Constructions and construction works' on EU’s material footprint

Table 2: Products with highest raw material consumption (RMC) by type of material, EU, 2019 (tonnes per capita)
Source: Eurostat (env_ac_rmefd)

Accounting for trade flows in terms of raw materials equivalents (RME)

This section looks at the raw material equivalents (RME) of trade flows. That is the estimated amount of material extraction needed, anywhere in the world, to produce the traded products.

Figure 4 shows that imports in RME and exports in RME are both substantially higher than the same flows measured in the actual weight of the traded goods as they cross the border. Imports in RME for the EU are estimated at 7.7 tonnes per capita, 2 times higher than actual physical imports. At 5.1 tonnes per capita, exports in RME are 3 times higher than actual physical exports.

Figure 4: Comparison of the actual weight of traded goods with trade in raw material equivalents (RME), EU, 2019 (tonnes per capita)
Source: Eurostat (env_ac_rme) (env_ac_mfa)

It is important to realise, that in general, trade flows expressed in RME are larger than the actual weight of the products traded. Almost all products go through different stages of manufacturing, starting from the extraction of raw materials, then the transformation into raw products, followed by further processing and assembly into semi-manufactured products and finally into finished products. The mass weight of the extracted raw materials, e.g. gross ore, is generally much higher than the weight of the traded products that contain the processed material only.

For example, while the concentration of metals in extracted metal ores is often less than 1 %, the metal content of concentrates and basic metals is much higher or even close to 100 %. This means that extracting concentrates and basic metals from virgin metal ores, often done in non-EU countries and reflected in EU imports, results in a much higher RME than the actual weight of the traded goods. Hence, it is not surprising that the largest difference between the actual weight of imports and imports in RME is found for metal ores: 1.6 tonnes per capita in 2019. The basic metals are usually further treated in the EU and integrated into final goods. These goods are then consumed in the EU or exported.

Non-metallic minerals also show a significant difference; 0.2 tonnes per capita in actual physical imports compared to 1.1 tonnes per capita in RME imports in 2019. The category is only a small part of both indicators however. This is because most non-metallic materials are usually extracted domestically in the country in question, rather than traded. For exports, the largest difference is found for fossil energy material, but it is just slightly more than for metal ores and non-metallic minerals.

The physical trade balance (imports minus exports) in RME is 2.5 tonnes per capita whereas the actual physical trade balance itself is 2.1 tonnes per capita in 2019. The difference is mostly due to fossil energy materials. More detailed information on physical flows of imports and exports as reported in economy-wide material flow accounts (EW-MFA) can be found in the Statistics Explained article 'Physical imports and exports'.

There are several other causes for the differences, although these cannot be directly identified in Figure 4. An important source of difference is that not all extracted materials required for producing a product necessarily become part of the product. For example, some products may require energy-intensive processing for which fossil energy carriers need to be extracted, but these are not represented in the mass weight of the product itself. This is also known as indirect material use. Generally, high-end consumer durables that require much processing and consist of many different parts will require more indirect use of materials than basic products. Another source of difference is due to the fact that in EW-MFA each traded product is assigned to one material category only, whereas traded products in RME are recorded with the whole range of materials that have contributed directly or indirectly to the production of the traded product.


Material flow indicators in RME compared to EW-MFA indicators

This section compares material flow indicators. The main RME-based indicator is raw material consumption (RMC) – also referred to as material footprint. It mirrors DMC, which is the main material flow indicators derived from economy-wide material flow accounts (EW-MFA).

Figure 5: Material flow indicators derived from EW-MFA and MFA in RME, EU, 2019 (tonnes per capita)
Source: Eurostat (env_ac_rme) (env_ac_mfa)

Figure 5 explains how EW-MFA indicators and indicators expressed in RME are derived and compares these indicators. The first two bars on the left show the calculation of DMC. Imports of 3.8 tonnes per capita of actual weight are added to domestic extraction (12.1 tonnes per capita) after which exports of 1.7 tonnes per capita are subtracted. The third and fourth bars show the same expressed in RME, i.e. the amount of raw material extraction carried out in the whole world to produce the goods in question. RMC is calculated by adding 7.7 tonnes per capita of imports to domestic extraction (the same 12.1 tonnes per capita), and subtracting 5.1 tonnes per capita of exports. These calculations result in an estimate of RMC of 14.6 tonnes per capita in RME, 2.8 % higher than DMC, which equals 14.2 tonnes per capita.

Direct material input (DMI) and raw material input (RMI) are auxiliary indicators that represent the amount of materials that are available to an economy. DMI represents the weight of the material as it enters the economy; either from the environment or because it crosses the EU's borders. RMI represents all the material that is directly and indirectly extracted to supply all inputs required for EU production. In 2019, at 19.7 tonnes of RME per capita, RMI in the EU was 24 % higher than DMI.


Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

Raw material consumption (RMC), also referred to as ‘material footprint’, is a material flow indicator. RMC quantifies the worldwide demand for material extractions triggered by consumption and investment by households, governments and businesses of a given economy. RMC can be considered to be composed of domestic extraction of materials and trade flows ‘converted’ to raw material equivalents (RME).

Domestic extraction is recorded in economy-wide material flow accounts (EW-MFA) and represents the physical amount of materials extracted from the environment by a national economy. Eurostat collects EW-MFA from the national statistical institutes (NSI) under Regulation (EU) No 691/2011 on European environmental-economic accounts. For more details on the material flow accounts data collection, see the reference metadata of the EW-MFA.

EW-MFA are in turn a subset of the European environmental-economic accounts. Environmental accounts can be used to analyse the interaction between the environment and the economy, because the accounts organise environmental information in a way that is consistent with the accounting principles of national accounts. The environmental accounts methodology is in line with the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA), which is an international statistical standard.

Trade flows in RME denote the amount of material extraction needed, anywhere in the world, to produce the traded products. To estimate those for the aggregated EU economy, Eurostat employs an environmentally-extended hybrid input-output model for the aggregated EU economy for more details see the documentation of the EU RME model). Trade flows in RME and the RME-based material flow indicators (such as RMC) are not covered by Regulation (EU) 691/2011. The modelling that is required for estimating trade flows in RME results in more uncertain indicator estimates than for the indicators based on EW-MFA, which are compiled from foreign trade statistics for as far as trade is concerned.

In accordance with national accounts’ concepts, the RMC can as well be considered as the material extractions induced worldwide for providing products to the domestic final use of a given economy. The latter is a common concept in national accounts and includes final consumption and investments (capital). Final consumption expenditure includes consumption expenditure by households, government and non-profit institutes serving households. Gross capital formation includes investments, both in fixed assets as well as changes in inventories and valuables. Economic modelling enables this re-attribution of material extraction to the domestic final use of products.

Basic concepts used in national accounting are further explained in the Statistics Explained article 'Building the System of National Accounts - basic concepts' from the online publication 'Building the System of National Accounts'. Another good introduction in national accounting is the OECD publication 'Understanding National Accounts'.

Eurostat employs the so-called EU-RME-model to estimate material flows in raw material equivalents for the aggregated EU economy. As regards estimates at country level, Eurostat supports statistical bodies by offering the so-called Country-RME-tool. This tool builds on average factors derived from the EU-RME-model. Both models are presented in more detail in the Country RME tool Handbook and the Documentation of the EU-RME-model. National statistical institutes are also free to develop and use their own estimation models. Eurostat collects material flow indicators in raw material equivalents from national statistical institutes on a voluntary basis, with around 15 countries reporting so far.

Data at country-level are reported by national statistical offices and – for EU Member States that do not report – estimated by Eurostat (see Country RME tool Handbook).

Eurostat's data set 'Material flow accounts in raw material equivalents' (env_ac_rme) includes a breakdown by four main material categories; biomass, metal ores, non-metallic minerals, and fossil energy materials/carriers, each with several more detailed breakdowns, with a total of 67 categories (including grouped categories). The data set 'Material flow accounts in raw material equivalents by final uses of products' (env_ac_rmefd) presents data for the aggregated EU economy on raw material consumption, by material category, product and final use type.

Context

Material flow accounts in raw material equivalents are part of environmental accounts. The latter enable the assessment of the interplay between the economy and the environment, which in turn provides relevant information to see whether current production and consumption activities are sustainable. The raw material consumption (RMC) – also referred to as ‘material footprint’ – is an indicator proposed to monitor sustainable development.

Direct access to

Other articles
Tables
Database
Dedicated section
Publications
Methodology
Visualisations