Tracking Material and Waste Flows Through the Economy

photo of a pile of broken concrete slabs

Project Brief

The Challenge

Sustainable materials management is integral to any greenhouse gas reduction strategy. Because the consumption of several common materials (i.e., cement, steel, food, plastics) drives a significant share of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wanted to explore how SMM could be applied to these materials. However, applying SMM to these materials is challenging. For example, tracking production of these materials and their inputs through the economy is time-intensive and data-scarce. Due to limitations associated with traditional waste generation and waste management models (e.g., inconsistent implementation, which hinders waste policy implementation), EPA was interested in exploring whether an alternative, the U.S. Environmentally-Extended Input-Output family of models, could be useful for this purpose. USEEIO was designed to estimate the potential environmental and economic impacts associated with the production or consumption of goods and services in order to help bridge the gap between traditional economic calculations, sustainability, and environmental decision-making.

ERG's Solution

ERG conducted a pilot study involving food waste and concrete waste to explore the value of USEEIO for tracking material flows. Working in collaboration with EPA, ERG developed datasets from public sources to attribute generation of these wastes to specific economic sectors and then assessed their expected end-of-life management approaches, including landfilling, recycling, and reuse. The project team found that, by linking materials management to the USEEIO, other environmental and economic outcomes could also be assessed, including impacts on employment and greenhouse gas emissions. In ongoing work, ERG is conducting additional case studies to explore the use of the USEEIO to track material flows through other stages of the supply chain, including material extraction and manufacturing.


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency