The capital load of global material footprints
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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OriginalversjonResources, Conservation and Recycling. 2020, 158 . 10.1016/j.resconrec.2020.104811
Despite calls for large-scale reductions in material use and efforts to initiate a “circular economy” that promotes recycling and reuse, a limited decoupling between overall resource extraction and economic growth has been historically found. This is particularly true if resource use is measured with the life-cycle or consumption-based material footprint (MF) indicator that allocates material extraction to final goods and services. However, this indicator treats capital goods as final products rather than part of the production process. In this paper, we introduce the capital-augmented material footprint (CAMF), a new indicator of material use that includes all the materials embedded in capital goods. Results for 49 countries and regions over the period 1995–2015 show that for mineral use, about 50–60% of the total footprint of final consumption is embodied in capital goods, whereas for biomass, the figure is around 10%. The largest increase in material requirements was observed in non-OECD countries and in service sectors in general. More countries achieve relative and absolute decoupling when using the CAMF as indicator of material use. Our results underpin the need for comprehensive indicators when assessing options to decrease the impacts of consumption.