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Raw materials and resources are essential for modern economies, but they come with environmental impacts. It is crucial that Europe sources and uses them responsibly to successfully transition towards a circular economy, climate neutrality and sustainability. We need to recycle these materials more while reducing extraction and consumption.
Keeping valuable materials in a circular economy
The EU aims to double its use of recycled material, in terms of its share in the total amount of material used by the economy, between 2020 and 2030, as set out in the circular economy action plan. Increasing the circular material use rate would reduce the extraction of natural resources and related environmental impacts. In 2021, recycled material accounted for 11.7% of the material used.
The circular material use rate for the various material groups differs significantly, with metal ores above 22% and for fossil fuels only 3% in 2021.
Given this relatively stable trend of the past decade, doubling the circular material use rate by 2030 will be very challenging. Nevertheless, some EU countries show promising results.
How big is Europe's material footprint?
The EU’s material footprint refers to the amount of material extracted from nature, both inside and outside the EU, to manufacture or provide the goods and services consumed by EU citizens.
From 2010 to 2020, the EU’s material footprint remained relatively stable. Of the various material groups, consumption of non-metallic minerals is the highest, accounting for 50% of the footprint in 2020. Biomass was the next largest group (23%), followed by fossil fuels (19%) and metals (9%). Although non-metallic minerals account for a large part of the total material footprint, they have less of an impact on the environment and climate than metals and fossil fuels, relative to their shares of the material footprint.
The EU's Eighth Environment Action Programme calls for a significant decrease in the EU’s material footprint.
Tracking raw material use in Europe
The EEA has ongoing cooperation with the European Commission's Joint Research Centre to compile knowledge on raw material security and sustainability. The result is the Raw Materials Information System (RMIS), a knowledge platform on non-fuel, non-agricultural raw materials from primary and secondary sources.
Sharing knowledge on global resource use
The International Resource Panel (IRP) was launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2007 to help build and share the knowledge needed to improve resource use worldwide. Here, EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx collaborates with 29 esteemed scientists to study key questions around resource use and produce assessment reports on global resource use.
Overall, the panel aims to produce guidance and connections between policymakers, industry, and the community on improving global resource management.