Material flow accounts

From Statistics Explained

Data from August 2014, most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.

Eurostat’s economy-wide material flow accounts (EW-MFA) constitute a comprehensive data framework that systematically records the inputs of materials to European economies in a detailed breakdown by material categories such as fossil energy materials, 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 gross domestic product (GDP) in order to monitor resource productivity in the context of the Europe 2020 Strategy.

Figure 1: Materials available to EU-27 economies and how they are used, 2012 (tonnes per capita)
Source: Eurostat (env_ac_mfa) (demo_gind)
Figure 2: Development of domestic extraction, physical imports and physical exports, EU-27 2000-12 (Index 2000=100)
Source: Eurostat (env_ac_mfa) (demo_gind)
Figure 3: Resource productivity in comparison to GDP and DMC, EU-27, 2000-12 (Index 2000=100)
Source: Eurostat (env_ac_mfa) (nama_gdp_k)
Figure 4: Domestic material consumption (DMC) by main material categories, EU-27, 2012 (tonnes per capita)
Source: Eurostat (env_ac_mfa) (demo_gind)
Figure 5: DMC by main material category, EU-27, 2000-12 (Index 2000=100)
Source: Eurostat (env_ac_mfa)
Figure 6: DMC by country and main material category, 2012 (tonnes per capita)
Source: Eurostat (demo_gind) (env_ac_mfa)
Table 1: DMC - average annual change rates 2000-12 by main material categories and countries (%)
Source: Eurostat (env_ac_mfa)
Figure 7: Raw material consumption, EU-27, 2012 (tonnes per capita)
Source: Eurostat (env_ac_rme) (demo_gind)

Main statistical findings

Material flow accounts present the amounts of materials (excluding water and air) that are physically available to EU economies. These material flows include the extractions of materials inside the EU's national economies and the physical imports (i.e. the mass weight of goods imported).

The following formula expresses the supply of materials to EU economies:

Domestic extraction + Physical imports = Direct material input

Domestic extraction is the aggregated amount of all materials extracted inside a national economy. For the aggregated EU-27 economy the domestic extraction amounted to 11.6 tonnes per capita in 2012. It is complemented by the import of products – measured as their mass weight when crossing the border. Imports from the rest of the world into EU-27 were around 3.2 tonnes per capita in 2012.

Imports combined with domestic extraction form an indicator called direct material input (DMI), i.e. the amount of materials that is actually available to the EU economy as a physical basis for domestic production activities. In 2012 DMI was 14.8 tonnes per capita for the aggregated EU-27 economy.

Material available to the economy can either be consumed within the economy or exported. This leads to the following equation on how materials are used:

Direct material input = Domestic material consumption + Physical exports

If one deducts the exports from the direct material input (DMI) the remaining materials constitute the domestic material consumption (DMC). In 2012 the DMC amounted to 13.5 tonnes per capita in the aggregated EU-27 economy. By comparison, the average global DMC is estimated to be around 10 tonnes per capita (see

The relationship between domestic extraction, DMI, DMC and imports and exports for the year 2012 is illustrated in figure 1.

Physical imports and exports

With 1.3 tonnes per capita, the EU-27's mass weight of exports was considerably lower than that of its imports (3.2 tonnes per capita). Another obvious pattern is that, until 2008, the trade components (physical imports and exports) increased whilst the domestic extraction remained more or less at the same level (see Figure 2). This indicates that the supply and use of materials has become increasingly interwoven with the global economy. During the crisis year of 2009, both physical imports and domestic extraction plunged, while physical exports only dropped slightly. Since 2009, physical exports increased more substantially than physical imports. For more information, see Physical imports and exports.

Resource productivity

The DMC indicator is linked to GDP to monitor resource productivity in the context of the Europe 2020 strategy (see also A resource-efficient Europe).

Resource productivity of the EU-27 economy — measured as the volume of gross domestic product (GDP) at market prices over DMC — increased by 29.2 % from 2000 to 2012, from 1.34 EUR/kg in 2000 to 1.73 EUR/kg in 2012. This corresponds to an average annual increase of 2.2 %. The average annual resource productivity growth rate was slightly above the volume growth rate of GDP during the reporting period (see Figure 3).

The development of the EU’s resource productivity has not been steady over time. This is at least partly due to the fact that 2009 was a year of economic recession (see Figure 3). After a constant increase between 2000 and 2003, resource productivity dropped in 2004. From there, it continued to grow regularly until 2008, before leaping from 1.47 to 1.66 EUR/kg from 2008 to 2010. The 2009 economic crisis affected the material intensive manufacturing and construction industries much more than the services industries. The DMC declined by 14 % between 2008 and 2010, i.e. dropping much more than GDP (see Figure 3). This decline was mainly determined by bulk materials such as construction and energy materials. For a more detailed analysis of the EU's resource productivity, see Resource productivity statistics.

Domestic material consumption

A more disaggregated analysis of DMC conveys the relative significance of various materials and their potential for reuse, recovery or recycling. The DMC of the aggregated EU-27 economy is dominated by non-metallic minerals (see Figure 4) make up nearly half of the DMC in 2012 (6.4 tonnes per capita). With 3.4 and 3.3 tonnes per capita respectively, biomass and fossil energy materials each make up approximately one fourth of DMC. Metal ores constitute the smallest of the main categories with 0.5 tonnes per capita.

Domestic material consumption of the main material categories over time

The four main material categories show different patterns of consumption over time. Material consumption of biomass is relatively stable over the long term, but can be impacted by strong annual fluctuations, due to climatic conditions. This underpins some of the annual DMC variations compared to GDP. Metal ores and non-metallic minerals show a strong dependency on economic development. The drop in material consumption of metal ores by one third in the crisis year of 2009 is quite remarkable. Both categories show an upward trend from 2000 to 2007 (8 and 17 % respectively) followed by an important downward trend from 2007 to 2012 (22 and 26 % respectively). Material consumption of fossil energy materials is much less affected by economic development yet shows a steady 14 % decrease from 2006 to 2012 (see Figure 5).

Domestic material consumption across EU Member States

Figure 6 shows the DMC by country and by main material category. Obviously, the composition by material category is influenced by domestic extraction and hence depends on each country's natural endowment with material resources. The latter may form an important structural element of the respective national economy. EU Member States with high per capita tonnages of biomass include Latvia, Ireland, Finland, Lithuania and Sweden. Forestry plays a major role in Latvia, Sweden, Finland and Lithuania. In Ireland, fodder crops and grazed biomass make up the biggest share. EU Member States with substantial amounts of fossil fuel extraction include Estonia (oil shale), Greece, the Czech Republic, Germany (lignite) and Denmark (natural gas and crude oil). Sweden, Bulgaria and Finland are characterised by significant metal ore extraction due to their mining industries. Non-metallic minerals constitute significant parts of DMC in countries such as Finland, Romania, Estonia and Austria suggesting high levels of per capita construction activity. Malta constitutes an outlier at the bottom presumably due to its limited domestic material resources and hence its increased reliance on imports which tend to be much lighter than domestic extractions.

Population density may explain — at least partly — the differences between countries. More densely populated countries such as the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy tend to consume somewhat lower amounts than the EU-27 average.

Table 1 shows the trends of DMC for main material components across countries. For the EU-27 as a whole, non-metallic and fossils energy materials were the main contributors to a decreasing trend. The larger EU Member States also tend to follow a general decreasing trend, caused mainly by sand and gravel and other non-metallic minerals. Several Member States that joined the EU after 2003 have benefited from an increasing trend in DMC over the 2000-12 period in more or less all material categories.

Raw material equivalents — towards a global perspective

The simple weight of traded goods provides a somewhat incomplete picture as it does not take into account the raw materials originally necessary to produce them. A more comprehensive picture of the ‘material footprints’ of imports and exports, especially finished and semi-finished goods, can be obtained by converting the traded goods into their raw material equivalents (RME), i.e. amounts of domestic extraction required to provide the respective traded goods.

Eurostat has developed a model to estimate the RME of imported and exported goods for the aggregated EU-27 economy (i.e. extra-EU trade).

For 2012, Eurostat estimates the exports in RME to amount to 4.6 tonnes per capita (see Figure 7) which is almost 4 times the simple weight of exported products (compare with Figure 1).

The import of goods in RME is estimated at 7.2 tonnes per capita which is over twice as much as the simple weight of imported products. For more details, see Physical imports and exports.

Data sources and availability

Eurostat collects economy-wide material flow accounts from all EU Member States, EFTA and candidate countries via an electronic questionnaire (see website of Eurostat's environmental accounts). The EW-MFA questionnaire includes the following components: domestic extraction, imports and exports. These components enable the derivation of indicators such as domestic material consumption. The data sources used by the national statistical institutes for the compilation of these accounts may differ in scope and quality between countries.

EU data is currently only available for EU-27. Although data from Croatia is available, physical extra-EU trade data is based on EU-27, and a coherent data set for EU-28 could therefore not be established.

The EW-MFA questionnaire is based on the Regulation 0691/2011 and is sent out every year.

The imports and exports in raw material equivalents (RME) are estimated by Eurostat employing an econometric model.


Indicators derived from economy-wide material flow accounts have been gaining policy attention. DMC is used to measure resource productivity (i.e. GDP per DMC). It is the lead indicator of the EU initiative on resource efficiency.

See also

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

Environmental accounts (t_env_acc)


Environmental accounts (env_acc)
Physical flow accounts (env_acp)

Dedicated section

Other information

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)