Material Flow Analysis and Its Principles


Industrial systems’ performance in cities and countries depends on the existence and quality of performed analyses. To support the development of a circular economy, a certain level of metabolism is necessary – the balance in the flow of materials produced by humans and businesses (Roos, 2014). One of the approaches that help support such activities is material flow analysis (MFA). This method is used to quantify the movement of materials through the ecosystem (Gupta, 2013). MFA is an analysis that can be used in various industries as it deals with physical quantities and not value. MFA is a helpful tool in dealing with processes controlled by people. The present paper aims to describe the basic principles of MFA, explain the factors necessary to consider in this analysis, and present the benefits of MFA for the economy.

Material Flow Analysis Examined

First, it is crucial to understand the defining characteristics of material flow analysis. MFA is used in systems to quantify material or substance fluxes and inventories (Gupta, 2013). For instance, MFA is a great instrument for investigating the bio-physical components of human activities in different geographical and temporal frameworks. It is considered a significant approach to environmental, urban, societal, and commercial metabolism. Materials, substances, or product flows are studied using MFA in different industries and settings.

In one of the applications, MFA depicts the entire movement of waste and the techniques for managing it. This tool can provide transfer rates for all residual processes in various entities that may be utilized in LCA calculations. MFA may be the foundation for creating an input-dependent waste disposal system using LCAs (Allesch & Brunner, 2015). Knowing the transport properties for all treatments allows for the creation of process inventories for organizing and recycling following the MFA and guarantees that the mass balance within the given scope is maintained. MFA entails a thorough examination of the material inputs and outputs into space over a set period.


There are several factors involved with the use of MFA in the economy. The first is the system of reference – the type of economy in the country or town, internal and external factors that determine the flow of materials, and the choices that people make (Gupta, 2013). Other factors that are directly linked to the interpretation of existing data include the various types of data collection and categorization of materials, results of aggregation, extraction, availability, and disaggregation (Gupta, 2013). Finally, the last factor to consider is sustainability – the processes outlined above and not directly connected to questions about the environment (Gupta, 2013). Therefore, they have to be interpreted with sustainability in mind.


Based on the presented factors, one can argue that MFA can be used for environmental assessment and systems management and development. According to Allesch and Brunner (2015), this analysis is crucial for understanding how systems operate. For example, MFA can help determine the weaknesses and strengths of any existing waste management system as well as investigate the qualitative aspects of using and reusing materials. MFA enables a critical perspective of resource planning in cities or countries, encompassing excrements, fecal matter, sewerage, and kitchen scrap disposal. Decision-makers will be able to select the best choices that do not damage groundwater or seawater and allow for fertilizer recycling.


Material flow analysis (MFA) is an integral part of supporting and improving a circular economy. It is an approach used for quantifying the movement of materials in systems. Such factors as the system of reference, data collection, categorization, aggregation results, extraction, availability, disaggregation, and sustainability cover the quantitative and qualitative aspects of industrial metabolism. MFA is utilized in such systems as waste management, and it allows one to develop a critical perspective of the structure as a whole while also considering its elements.


Allesch, A., & Brunner, P. H. (2015). Material flow analysis as a decision support tool for waste management: A literature review. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 19(5), 753–764.

Gupta, S. M. (Ed.). (2013). Reverse supply chains: Issues and analysis. CRC Press.

Roos, G. (2014). Business model innovation to create and capture resource value in future circular material chains. Resources, 3(1), 248-274.

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