Resource Use

Material footprint in Scotland 38 per cent higher than global average

Zero Waste Scotland has published a new landmark report today that reveals the size of Scotland’s consumption footprint for the first time. 

The Scottish Material Flow Accounts provides insight into the material usage of the nation. It revealed that Scotland’s raw material consumption per capita, also known as a material footprint, was 18.4 tonnes in 2017 – 38 per cent higher than the global average.

MiningThis is the equivalent to each person in Scotland using their body weight in material every 1.4 days.

Most experts agree that a material footprint of approximately 8 tonnes per capita is a sustainable and achievable benchmark, without compromising well-being or quality of life.

The analysis quantifies the materials that are being extracted from Scotland’s natural environment every year, as well as those which are imported, exported, and wasted.  

79 per cent of physical material exports are fossil fuels, with the report stating that imports increase by 193 per cent and exports rise by 51 per cent when raw material extracts are considered.

Data from the report suggests that material consumption can decrease without damaging the economy. Between 2011 and 2017, the Scottish economy grew by 11 per cent, whilst Scotland’s resource use showed signs of Domestic Material Consumption (DMC) decreasing by 10 per cent.

This suggests the capacity to decouple economic growth from resource growth.

Of the report, Iain Gulland, Chief Executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “What the MFA tells us is that consumption in Scotland is unsustainably high. This is, in part, due to the quantity of things we buy.

“We need a system-wide change that enables us all to choose more sustainable ways to live, use the things we need and share resources.”

Kimberley Pratt, Zero Waste Scotland environmental analyst and report author, added: “It is also due to the amounts of materials it takes to extract raw materials and manufacture new products.

“These processes are resource-intensive, but those costs are not obvious when we look only at the finished product.”

“For example, 25 tonnes of iron ore must be mined to produce one tonne of iron which the average Scot might consume as steel in products such as the buildings we live and work in, cars and electrical appliances.”  

“This highlights the negative environmental impacts of our production processes and consumption habits which favour using new goods made from virgin materials rather than re-used or repaired goods, or goods made from recycled materials or from remanufacturing.”   

Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, commented: “The Scottish Government is committed to ending our contribution to climate change within a generation.

“To make that happen, we need to understand and reduce the impact of the products and materials we consume.”

“This is the first report of its kind for Scotland, and it will be a vital tool for engaging people in discussions on how we reduce the impact of our consumption. It is clear that the more materials we extract and use, the more damage we do to the climate and to nature.” 

“That is why we are committed to building a circular economy in Scotland.”

“By encouraging reuse, repair and recycling, and designing products to last as long as possible, we can reduce the demand for raw materials, and the emissions that come with them. We will be introducing a Circular Economy Bill to help support that transformation.” 

On the topic of promoting the circular economy as a solution to excess material consumption, Gulland added: “The MFA will be a valuable tool to inform new approaches that will deliver lasting, impactful change to the way we consume raw materials and play our part in tackling the climate crisis.”

“We know that a circular economy is one of the solutions as it promises to maximise value from the goods we already have in circulation while relieving pressure on finite natural materials, like oil and precious metals.”

According to the report, it is essential to improve understanding of material flows, and reduce overall material consumption in order to move towards a circular economy.

The Material Flow Accounts, when considered in conjunction with existing tools, such as the Scottish Government’s annual Carbon Footprint publication and Zero Waste Scotland’s Carbon Metric, will purportedly support this economic transition.

Gulland continued: “Achieving that requires a joint effort from all sectors – from individuals to designers, industry, and governments – and can help us generate new opportunities for Scotland from inward investment to new, ‘green’ jobs.”

“Scotland’s buoyant re-use sector and our growing circular economy already provide us with more sustainable options to buy the things we really need.

“I urge Scots and Scottish businesses to consume conscientiously. Let’s consider making changes to our buying habits in all walks of life to help rebuild an economy compatible with protecting the environment and tackling the climate emergency.”