Using spatially explicit commodity flow and truck activity data to map urban material flows
To analyze and promote resource efficiency in urban areas, it is important to characterize urban metabolism and particularly, material flows. Material flow analysis (MFA) offers a means to capture the dynamism of cities and their activities. Urban‐scale MFAs have been conducted in many cities, usually employing variants of the Eurostat methodology. However, current methodologies generally reduce the study area into a “black box,” masking details of the complex processes within the city's metabolism. Therefore, besides the aggregated stocks and flows of materials, the movement of materials—often embedded in goods or commodities—should also be highlighted. Understanding the movement and dispersion of goods and commodities can allow for more detailed analysis of material flows. We highlight the potential benefits of using high‐resolution urban commodity flows in the context of understanding material resource use and opportunities for conservation. Through the use of geographic information systems and visualizations, we analyze two spatially explicit datasets: (1) commodity flow data in the United States, and (2) Global Positioning System‐based commercial vehicle (truck) driver activity data in Singapore. In the age of “big data,” we bring advancements in freight data collection to the field of urban metabolism, uncovering the secondary sourcing of materials that would otherwise have been masked in typical MFA studies. This brings us closer to a consumption‐based, finer‐resolution approach to MFA, which more effectively captures human activities and its impact on urban environments.