Resource productivity and waste

OECD Global Forum on Environment: Sustainable Materials Management


Hosted by the Public Waste Agency of Flanders (OVAM), this Forum, organised by the OECD, took place on 25-27 October 2010 in Mechelen, Belgium.


The past two centuries have seen unprecedented growth in human population and economic well-being. This growth has been fed by equally unprecedented material resource consumption and its associated negative environmental impacts. Economic and trade integration among countries has enlarged the size of markets, allowed greater specialisation and mobility in production, increased the role of multinational enterprises and led to an overall increase in international flows in raw materials and manufactured goods.

Making sure that material resources are managed sustainably and used efficiently through their life-cycle is vital to economic growth, environmental quality and sustainable development. It would also help reduce the negative environmental impacts associated with the production, consumption and end-of-life management of material resources -- a concern that has long been on the policy agenda of OECD countries. A shift from “end-of-life” thinking towards a more integrated life-cycle approach is therefore needed.

The OECD Environmental Strategy for the 1st Decade of the 21st Century, adopted by Environment Ministers in May 2001, clearly outlined the need for governments to look for integrated management solutions which link resource use and prevention of waste into a coherent policy approach, such as the one embodied in the Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) paradigm. Policy integration is also most likely to be improved by a structured “partnership” approach, involving all actors in the materials life-cycle (especially business, NGOs, and consumers).

This challenge has a global scope. The growing interdependence of countries and economies and globalisation of trade in materials and goods associated with increasing negative environmental impacts necessitates an approach that would take global effects directly into account.

Scope and Objectives                         

In line with the need to shift towards more integrated “life-cycle” approaches, OECD has refocused much of its waste management work towards an SMM perspective, and held two workshops:

  • Seoul in 2005, whose objective was to take stock of what exists to date in relation to this new concept, define the concept and explore the potential elements of SMM (workshop report). 
  • Tel Aviv in 2008, whose objective was to learn about SMM experiences from governments, the private sector and NGOs. Existing methodologies to assess material use in terms of its potential impacts on the environment, benefits to society and value for the economy, were also analysed (workshop report).

The outcomes of both workshops, as well as a survey carried out among OECD governments and several “stocktaking” reports and case studies, have laid the basis for the completion of this in-depth and multi-faceted study of the SMM paradigm.

Time has now come to propose concrete steps and measures to put SMM into practice or to extend it to new areas. The objective of the 2010 Global Forum on Environment (GFENV) focusing on “Sustainable Materials Management”, held in Belgium were:

  • To draw conclusions from the results of three policy-oriented reports (on target setting, policy principles, and policy instruments), as well as from the results of four materials case studies (on aluminium, critical metals, fibres, plastics); 
  • To learn from new examples of “innovative SMM practices” from the private sector, governments and NGOs (particularly those involving “systems” innovations);
  • To link the discussions to the OECD Green Growth Strategy and implementation of the OECD Council Recommendation on Resource Productivity [C(2008)40] and the 2008 G8 Kobe 3R Action Plan; and
  • To discuss possible “policies for implementing SMM” and to delineate the form of actions to be taken (Council Recommendation, report on policy options, compilation of best practices, etc.).

Target audience

Participation of OECD countries, delegates from invited non-member economies and relevant invited experts. The UN Resource Panel, as well as key representatives from the business and NGO communities, were invited and played key roles.



 Simon Upton, Director, OECD Environment Directorate

 Henny De Beats, Secretary General, OVAM


Relevant SMM Information


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