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A Handbook of Industrial Ecology

Edited by Robert U. Ayres and Leslie W. Ayres

Industrial ecology is coming of age and this superb book brings together leading scholars to present a state-of-the-art overviews of the subject. Each part of the book comprehensively covers the following issues in a systematic style: the goals and achievements of industrial ecology and the history of the field; methodology, covering the main approaches to analysis and assessment; economics and industrial ecology; industrial ecology at the national/regional level; industrial ecology at the sectoral/materials level; and applications and policy implications.
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Chapter 22: Material flow accounts: the USA and the world

Donald G. Rogich and Grecia R. Matos


22. Material flow accounts: the USA and the world Donald G. Rogich and Grecia R. Matos Movements and transformations, material flows, in the environment are continuous. These can be driven by solar energy and geologic processes, or by living organisms which are part of the natural environment. They can also be the result of human activity. All movements and transformations cause change, and these changes may or may not be compatible with sustaining the environmental conditions that exist. Where changes in one part of an ecosystem are useful to, or reversed by, another component of the same system, the system will remain in balance because the cycle of change is closed. With the exception of energy from the sun, natural systems have closed cycles, things that die and decay, the outputs from one part of the system, produce the nutrients for other living things, which in turn provide the basis for new growth. In contrast, the majority of the outputs from industrial activities have no utility to any other part of the environment, they are wastes, and the cycle of change is open: ‘the industrial system is an open one in which nutrients are transformed into “wastes”, but not significantly recycled. The industrial system, as it exists today, is therefore ipso facto unsustainable’ (Ayres and Ayres 1998). When humans lived as hunter-gatherers they were part of the closed natural system. With the rise of agriculture and the creation of concentrated settlements (cities), they began to live in more open...

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