U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Industrial Ecology (2009) 13:5 662-665. DOI: 10.1111/j.1530-9290.2009.00168.x


Many possible applications exist for material flow analysis (MFA). One of them is to help with sustainable materials management (SMM), a familiar concept to the readers of this journal— “an approach to serving human needs by using/ reusing resources most productively and sustainably throughout their life cycles, generally minimizing the amount of materials involved and all the associated environmental impacts” (EPA 2009).

Governments and industries around the world are stepping up their efforts to manage materials sustainably. But where should governments start? How should they set priorities on what materials to address? A few hundred basic materials are transformed into many thousands of products, making priority setting critical and challenging. A recent analysis indicates that MFA can and should be part of the equation for priority setting, but only part.