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Sustainable Materials Management and Natural Capital Valuation Provide a Richer Measure of Sustainability

August 26, 2016 |


“…To provide a much richer measure of sustainability, Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) looks at the entire lifecycle of materials, packaging, and products to help us make more informed choices. As the U.S. EPA notes: “SMM represents a change in how our society thinks about the use of natural resources and environmental protection. By looking at a product’s entire lifecycle we can find new opportunities to reduce environmental impacts, conserve resources, and reduce costs.”

In short, SMM seeks to establish an explicit, overarching materials management goal, beyond just recycling, to reduce the environmental impact of materials.

Two recent studies contribute greatly to our understanding of the environmental impacts of materials throughout the various stages of their life cycle, a key aspect of SMM. In 2014, the consulting firm Trucost produced a study for the United Nations Environment Programme that looked at the total natural capital cost of plastics used in the consumer goods industry. This cost is calculated by assessing a range of environmental impacts such as manufacturing, marine debris, and the loss of valuable resources when used plastics are sent to landfills rather than recycled.

In 2016, Trucost expanded on that study and compared the environmental cost of using plastics in consumer products and packaging to the cost of replacing plastics with alternative materials…”

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