Zero Waste Scotland publishes a new landmark report, The Scottish Material Flow Accounts, that reveals the size of Scotland’s consumption footprint for the first time.

The report shows the average Scot consumes 18.4 tonnes of materials every year which is the equivalent of 50kg per day on average.   The weight calculated for the average European was 14.1 tonnes.

Academics agree that a sustainable level of material use, which would still allow for a high quality of life, is about eight tonnes per person per year.  

The agency said the higher number in Scotland could be because of more rural, dispersed communities requiring more infrastructure and the higher cost of insulating and heating buildings in northern countries.

Material flow accounting is a relatively new way of calculating impact on the environment, giving an alternative view to carbon accounting. It measures the weight of all the resources we consume, with the exception of water. That includes food, metals and metal ore, plastic, fuel, textiles, paper, cardboard and wood.

It includes the impact of transporting products to Scotland, and of the raw materials and energy deployed in other countries manufacturing and exporting goods to Scotland

The accounting also seeks to cover the impact of providing services, and the fuel required to supply water and treat wastewater.

Material flow accounting is seen by Zero Waste Scotland as the start of a conversation with business and individuals about how to lower that impact.

The agency wants it to be a stimulus to reduce demand for new, unsustainable products, making them last longer in the so-called "circular economy", through re-use, repair, refurbishment and remanufacturing, as well as recycling.

Iain Gulland, Chief Executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “What the MFA tell 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.”     

The evidence of the Scottish MFA shows there is an inextricable relationship between what Scotland consumes and its global climate impact.    

With the current global political agenda focussed on accelerating a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, ahead of COP26 later this year in Glasgow, the report provides a base of evidence to help us rethink how we consume in Scotland.    

The research was carried out with Eunomia Research and Consultancy, and peer reviewed by Queen's University Belfast.

The Scottish Material Flow Accounts is available on the Zero Waste Scotland website here.


For further information and to access the report visit the Zero Waste Scotland website here.