Western European Materials as Sources and Sinks of CO2

Western European Materials as Sources and Sinks of CO2
Dolf J. Gielen
Journal of Industrial Ecology, Volume 2, Issue 2, Pages 43–62

Materials use is an important factor influencing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions because significant amounts of carbon dioxide are released during the production of materials from natural resources, and because products and wastes can function as important sinks for CO2. This article analyzes the impact of Western European materials use on CO2 emissions. The material flows for steel, cement, petrochemicals, and wood products are analyzed in more detail. The analysis shows that particular characteristics of the materials system must be considered in the development of emission reduction strategies. It is important to select a relatively closed system for policymaking, as in Western Europe, in order to prevent unwanted transboundary effects. The materials stored in the form of products, and the net exports of materials, products, and waste limit the potential of a recycling strategy. Carbon storage in products and waste disposal sites is significant both for synthetic and natural organic materials, but is not accounted for in natural organic materials in current emissions statistics. Accordingly the emissions accounting practices should be modified to reflect the storage of such materials.

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