Material flow accounts
From Statistics Explained
- Data from April 2012, most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.
Eurostat's economy-wide material flow accounts (EW-MFA) constitute a comprehensive data framework systematically recording the inputs of materials to European economies in a detailed breakdown by material categories such as fossil energy carriers, biomass, metal ores etc.
Various indicators are derived from the EW-MFA accounting framework – most prominently domestic material consumption (DMC) which is currently related to GDP in order to monitor resource productivity in the context of the Europe 2020 strategy.
Main statistical findings
Direct material flow accounts
Direct material flow accounts present the amounts of materials (excluding water and air) that are physically available to EU-27 economies. These direct material flows comprise the extractions of materials inside the EU national economies and the physical imports (i.e. the mass weight of goods imported).
The following identity expresses the direct supply of materials (excluding water and air) to EU-27 economies:
Domestic Extraction Used (DEU) + Imports (IMP) = Direct Material Input (DMI)
The domestic extraction used (DEU) is the aggregated amount of all materials (excluding water and air) extracted inside the national economy. For the aggregated EU-27 economy the DEU amounted to 12.5 tonnes per capita in the year 2009.
It is complemented by physical Imports (IMP) of products – measured as their mass weight when crossing the border. Imports into the aggregated EU-27 economy were around 3 tonnes per capita in 2009.
Imports together with DEU form an indicator termed direct material inputs (DMI), i.e. the amount of materials (excluding water and air) actually available to the EU-27 economy as a physical basis for domestic production activities. In 2009 DMI was 15.5 tonnes per capita for the aggregates EU-27 economy.
The DMI can be regarded from a use perspective too – distinguishing two components: the exports (EXP) and the domestic material consumption (DMC).
With 1 tonne per capita, the mass weight of exported products (EXP) out of the EU-27 economy was considerably lower than that of Imports.
The remaining materials constitute the actual direct consumption of material (excluding water and air) by resident units and are termed domestic material consumption (DMC).
In 2009 the DMC amounted 14.6 tonnes per capita in the aggregated EU-27 economy. In comparison, the average global DMC is estimated to be around 10 tonnes per capita.
The following identity expresses how materials are used that are directly made available to EU economies:
Direct Material Input (DMI) = Direct Material Consumption (DMC) + Exports (EXP)
Figure 1 shows for the year 2009 the full account of the direct material flows– i.e. the supply of direct materials and how they are used.
Time trends of EU's direct material flows
The generic components of the direct material flow accounts developed slightly different over the last decade (see Figure 2 and Table 1).
The most obvious pattern is that the trade components (IMP and EXP) increased whilst the DEU more or less remained at the same level. This indicates that the direct supply and use of materials is increasingly interwoven with the global economy.
Secondly, the direct supply and use of materials seems to be influenced by economic cycles. It dropped slightly in the early 2000 years and significantly in the economic crisis in the year 2009. As it is shown in Table 2, the development of bulk materials such as energy and construction materials play a major role as the demand for those is sensitive towards economic cycles.
Resource productivity – measured as the volume of gross domestic product (GDP) at market prices over DMC – of the EU-27 economy increased from 1.33 EUR/kg of DMC in 2000 to 1.55 EUR/kg in the year 2009 (see Figure 3). This corresponds to an average annual increase of about 1.6 %. The average annual resource productivity growth rate was slightly above the volume growth rate of the GDP (around 1.2 %) during the reported period. In 2009 there was a big increase in resource productivity caused by a fall of 11 % in DMC.
However, the development of EU's resource productivity over time has not been steady also because the last year of the reporting period was a year of economic recession (see Figure 4). After a constant increase between 2000 and 2003, resource productivity dropped significantly in 2004. From there, it continued its constant growth path until 2008, after which, from 2008 to 2009, it leapt from 1.43 to 1.55 EUR/kg. The economic crisis in 2009 affected the material intensive industries of manufacturing and construction much more than the services industries. The DMC declined by more than 11 % between 2008 and 2009, i.e. dropping much more than GDP (see Figure 4). This decline was mainly determined by bulk materials such as construction and energy materials (see Table 2).
Composition of EU's DMC
A more disaggregated analysis of DMC conveys the relative significance of various materials and the related implications – and their potential for re-use, recovery or recycling.
The DMC of the aggregated EU-27 economy is dominated by bulk minerals (see Figure 5) – about half of the 14.6 tonnes per capita in 2009 are made up by sand & gravel (4.6 tonnes per capita) and other non-metallic minerals such as natural stones, clay etc. (2.7 tonnes per capita). With 3.5 tonnes per capita fossil energy materials make up around one fourth. Crop residues & grazed biomass (1.5 tonnes per capita) and other biomass (1.9 tonnes per capita) together contribute another fourth. Metal ores constitute the smallest category with 0.4 tonnes per capita.
The single material categories of DMC have been developing differently (see Figure 6 and Table 2).
Most pronounced has been the development of non-metallic minerals and products thereof which is quantitatively important with around 3 tonnes per capita and assumingly closely related to construction activities. It increased by more than 35% between 2000 and 2008 and shows a sharp decline in 2009.
Sand & gravel decreased to 4.7 tonnes per capita in 2002/2003, increased to 3.3 tonnes per capita in 2007/2008 to drop again in 2009 to 2.7 tonnes per capita.
Fossil energy materials remained rather stable until 2008 and dropped from 3.8 to 3.5 tonnes per capita in 2009.
Metal ores and products thereof – although quantitatively less relevant – showed the sharpest decline in 2009
The other biomass related categories more or less fluctuated around their average over the period 2000-2009 indicating that they might be less determined by economic cycles but rather by climate conditions.
Cross country comparisons of DMC
Per capita levels
For the aggregated EU-27 the per capita level of DMC was 14.6 tonnes in 2009. There are differences in quantities and composition of DMC between Member States representing different consumption rates, living standards, and economic structures and development stages.
Figure 7 shows these differences – the majority of Member States however are in a range of +/-5 tonnes of the EU-27 average, i.e. lie between 10 and 20 tonnes DMC per capita. Malta constitutes an outlier at the bottom assumingly due to its limited domestic material resources and hence more imports which tend to be much lighter than domestic extractions. The outliers Cyprus, Finland, and Ireland show extraordinarily high consumption of sand and gravel and other non-metallic minerals suggesting high construction activity. There is no outstanding parameter which clearly explains the level of DMC per capita. Population density may explain it at least partly. More densely populated countries such as e.g. the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy tend to consume somewhat lower amounts than the EU-27 average.
Also the standard of living, i.e. the level of GDP per capita, does not clearly explain the levels of material consumption (see Table 3 and Figure 8). There are five low-income countries at or below EU's average DMC (Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia, Greece). However, there are also five high income countries (Spain, Italy, France, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands) with also lower DMC.
Resource productivity – measuring how much economic value added is created per unit of material resources – varies considerably across countries. For comparisons across countries, resource productivity is measured as gross domestic product (GDP) expressed in PPS over domestic material consumption (DMC). In 2009, this resource productivity amounted to 1.60 PPS/kg for the aggregated EU-27 economy. The ratio varies considerably across Member States from 0.55 PPS/kg in Romania up to 3.28 PPS/kg in the Netherlands. The graph in Figure 8 plotting DMC against GDP reveals that the variation in resource productivity is partly influenced by different GDP levels or stages of economic development. Figure 8 shows that countries can be roughly divided into two groups as regards GDP levels and resource productivity: the first countries group with GDP above 20 000 PPS/capita also shows higher resource productivities. The second group with GDP levels below 20 000 PPS/capita shows lower resource productivities. But for both country groupings, we find DMC more or less in the same range of about 10-23 tonnes/capita (excluding outliers such as e.g. Ireland, Luxembourg and Malta).
The composition of DMC by main material categories varies considerably across countries (see Table 4). Obviously, the composition is influenced by domestic extraction and hence depending on the natural endowment with material resources. The latter may form an important structural element of the respective national economy.
Member States with high per capita tonnages of biomass include Finland, Sweden and Lithuania – all of which economies where forestry plays a major role. Member States with huge amounts of fossil fuels comprise Estonia (oil shale), Greece, Czech Republic and Germany (lignite), Denmark (natural gas and crude oil) and Finland (peat). Bulgaria and Sweden are characterised by significant metal ore consumption due to their mining industries. Minerals constitute significant parts of DMC in countries such as Ireland, Romania and Finland suggesting high construction activity levels.
There is a diverse pattern of material consumption trends in the EU. Larger and "older" Member States show a general decreasing trend, while smaller and "newer" Member States show an increasing trend (see Figure 10).
When looking at the trends of single material components of DMC across countries, the picture is diverse too (see Table 5). For the EU-27 as a whole, sand and gravel and fossils contributed mainly to a decreasing trend. The larger and "older" Member States tend to have a general decreasing trend as well, mainly caused by sand and gravel and other non-metallic minerals. Many of the "newer" Member States have an increasing trend of DMC over the period 2000-2009 in more or less all material categories.
Starting from the year 2000 the Member States' resource productivity developed quite differently (see Table 6). As a reference, the aggregated EU-27 economy increased resource productivity by around 17 % in the period 2000-2009.
Countries performing significantly above EU-27 average include the Czech Republic, Latvia, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom. Countries where resource productivity decreased are Romania, Cyprus, Estonia, Ireland and Portugal.
The development trajectories for the period 2000-2009 are more heterogeneous for those Member States who joined the EU after 2004 where we find extremes such as Romania (decrease by 40 %) and Latvia (increase by 56 %). The other Member States developed in a more narrow range between -4 % (Ireland) and +41 % (the Netherlands).
Direct physical trade
In direct physical terms the EU-27 imports four times more than it exports
The EU's physical trade with the rest of the world – measured as the direct mass weight of traded goods – reveals a clear and consistent pattern (see Figure 11). With around 3.1 tonnes per capita, imports are four times bigger than exports with 0.7 tonnes per capita.
In a breakdown by main material categories, this asymmetry is dominated by fossil fuels with imports of more than 2 tonnes per capita. The direct physical imports and exports of goods are also broken down by stage of manufacturing (see Figure 12, Figure 13, and Figure 14).
The extra-EU-trade in finished and semi-finished goods is more or less balanced. However the EU-27 imports 10-12 times more raw products from the rest of the world than it exports (see Figure 12 and Figure 13).
The patterns show certain dependency on the rest of the world for raw materials. Obviously, the EU-27 transforms low value raw products into high value finished products.
Both, physical imports and exports increased until 2007/2008 and decreased in the economic crisis year 2009.
The direct physical trade between EU Member States is of the same order of magnitude as the imports from the rest of the world – around 3 tonnes per capita (see Figure 14). The biggest single category traded within EU-27 is finished goods (about 40 %) indicating the importance of the European single market as a sales market for products produced in the EU. With slightly more than 30 % raw materials also constitute an important share of intra EU-27 trade suggesting that the available material resources are shared amongst EU Member States, most notably agricultural products.
Physical trade balance
The direct physical trade balance (imports minus exports) of the EU-27 economy with the rest of the world is illustrated in Figure 15 for the main material categories. Most obvious is the negative trade balance for fossil fuels. Figure 16 shows the physical trade balance (total imports minus total exports) for all Member States. The majority of Member States imports more than it exports (=net importers) – most of which in a reasonable range around the EU-27 average. There are four Member States with very high net imports of above 4 tonnes per capita.
Net exporting countries are Latvia, Estonia (wood) and Sweden (metal ores).
The picture changes when considering only the trade balance with the rest of the world, i.e. extra EU-27 trade (see second bar in Figure 16). Certain countries have a higher extra EU-27 trade balances compared to their total trade balance (e.g. the Netherlands, Lithuania, Hungary or Czech Republic). For some Member States the total trade balance is positive whereas the extra EU 27 trade balance is negative (e.g. Luxembourg, Malta).
Import dependency by main material categories – country comparison
The EU-27 as an aggregate and most of their Member States are dependent on imports from the rest of the world to meet their direct material demand. Table 7 shows the degree of dependency broken down by material categories for each Member State and the EU-27 as a total.
The EU-27 economy as a total is highly dependent on extra EU-27 imports of metal ores (58 % of DMI) and fossil energy carriers (56 % of DMI). There are even Member States where the import dependency for fossil energy carriers is above 80 % (Spain, Italy and Lithuania). On the other hand, other countries show very little import dependency for fossil energy carries such as e.g. Estonia and Poland.
Indirect material flows – towards a global perspective
One drawback of the indicators DMC and DMI is their 'asymmetry':
- they measure the domestic extraction of material resources in tonnes of gross ore (or gross harvest);
- whereas the imports and exports are measured in mass weight of goods crossing the boundary independent of how far the traded products have been processed.
A more comprehensive picture on the "material footprints" of imports and exports can be obtained when converting the traded goods into their raw material equivalents (RME), i.e. amounts of domestic extraction used (DEU) required to provide the respective traded goods.
Eurostat has developed a model to estimate the RME of imports and exports for the aggregated EU-27 economy.
Accounts including indirect material flows of trade
Figure 17 presents an extended material flow account taking into consideration the global raw material extractions induced through imports and exports of goods in and out the EU-27 economy.
The first bar on the left shows, next to the domestic extraction used (DEU), the imports expressed or converted into their raw material equivalents (IMP_RME), i.e. into equivalents of domestic extractions that have been induced in the rest of the world to produce the respective good. The latter are estimated at 6.3 tonnes per capita for the year 2009. This is significantly more than the pure mass weight of the imported goods (3 tonnes per capita, see and compare with Figure 1).
The following identity expresses the supply of materials in RME to EU economies:
Domestic Extraction Used (DEU) + Imports in RME (IMP_RME) = Raw Material Input (RMI)
Domestic extraction used (DEU) and Imports in raw material equivalents form the indicator raw material input (RMI): it is estimated at 18.9 tonnes per capita for the year 2009 and the aggregated EU-27 economy.
From a use perspective there are two main components to be distinguished: Exports in raw material equivalents (EXP_RME) are subtracted from the RMI in order to derive the raw material consumption (RMC) indicator. The RMC indicator expresses the amount of globally and domestically induced raw material extractions associated to EU's consumption.
Raw Material Input (RMI) = Direct Material Consumption (DMC) + Exports in RME (EXP_RME)
Eurostat estimates the exports in RME to amount to 3.6 tonnes RME per capita which is almost half of the imports in RME.
The RMC is estimated at 15.2 tonnes RME per capita for the EU-27 and the year 2009.
Comparison DMI-RMI and DMC-RMC
Figure 18 presents a comparison of the direct material indicators (DMI and DMC) with the respectively extended indicators in raw material equivalents (RMI and RMC).
The RMI per capita is 3.3 tonnes higher than the DMI. This difference is due to the category of metal ores and products thereof. The imports of goods assigned to this category have huge "material backpacks". The amounts of gross metal ores required to produce products from this category are several times higher than the product' mass weight.
The difference between DMC and RMC is comparably small as the exports in raw material equivalents are deducted.
Imports and exports in RME - composition by materials and trends
The imports in RME are dominated by fossil energy carriers and metal ores making up roughly 90 %. The exports in RME are also dominated by these two categories, however there share is significantly less with roughly 50-60 %.
Over the period 2000-2008 the composition of imports and exports in RME did not change much. Both dropped in 2009 due to the economic crisis.
Data sources and availability
Eurostat collects economy-wide material flow accounts from all EU Member States, Norway, Switzerland and the candidate countries via an electronic questionnaire. The EW-MFA Questionnaire comprises mainly the direct material flow accounts with the components: domestic extraction used (DEU), imports (IMP), and exports (EXP). These components enable the derivation of the indicators DMC (domestic material consumption) and DMI (direct material input). The data sources national statistical institutes employ for the compilation of these accounts may differ in scope and quality between countries.
With the year 2013 Regulation (EU) 691/2011 on European Environmental Economic Accounts enters into force based on which the EW-MFA Questionnaire is send out every year asking for data up to T-24 months.
The indirect material flow indicators such as RMC and RMI are not subject to above legal base. They are estimated by Eurostat - only for the aggregated EU-27 - based on a complex environmentally extended Input-Output model. Further information can be found here.
Environmental accounts are one statistical means to try to measure the interplay between the economy and the environment in order to see whether current production and consumption activities are on a sustainable path of development. Measuring sustainable development is a complex undertaking as it has to incorporate economic, social and environmental indicators without contradiction. The data obtained may subsequently feed into political decision-making, underpinning policies that target both continued economic growth and sustainable development, for example, initiatives such as the Europe 2020 strategy, which aims to achieve a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy for the EU by 2020.
In order to have such a holistic view of the various aspects of sustainable development, the existing framework for measuring the economy – in other words, the system of national accounts – is supplemented by satellite systems representing environmental or social indicators. These satellite accounts are largely developed using the same concepts, definitions, classifications and accounting rules as the national accounts, bringing environmental or social data together with economic data in a coherent and comparable framework. Thus, environmental accounts serve to enhance the understanding of pressures exerted by the economy on the environment.
The need to supplement existing information on the economy with environmental indicators has been recognised in a European Commission Communication titled ‘GDP and beyond’ (COM(2009) 433). Furthermore, similar recommendations have been made within a report by the Commission on the measurement of economic performance and social progress, an initiative of the French government. The recommendations made support the expansion of the statistical understanding of human well-being by supplementing economic indicators such as GDP with additional information, including physical indicators on the environment.
Further Eurostat information
- EU's Resource Productivity on the increase - Statistics in focus 22/2012
- European countries required more materials between 2000 and 2007 - Statistics in focus 9/2011
- Environmental statistics and accounts in Europe - 2010 edition
- Environment (t_env), see:
- Environmental accounts (t_env_acc)
- Environment (env), see:
- Environmental accounts (env_acc)
- Physical flow and hybrid accounts (env_acp)
- Economy-wide material flow accounts compilation guide 2012
- Economy-wide material flow accounts questionnaire 2012
- Economy-wide material flow accounts compilation guide 2009
- Economy-Wide Material Flow Accounts Questionnaire 2009
- Sustainable development indicators