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Keywords:

  • economy-wide material flow analysis;
  • (EW-MFA);
  • hidden material flow (HF);
  • industrial ecology;
  • potentially environmentally relevant;
  • flows (PERF);
  • Spain;
  • tin capsules

Summary

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Aims
  5. Method
  6. Case Study
  7. Discussion
  8. Conclusions and Final Considerations
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References
  11. About the Author

Total material requirement (TMR), a measure of all of the material input required by a national economy, is sometimes criticized for failing to link material flows within an economy and their global environmental impacts. This article presents a three-step method for bridging this gap. The method shows how to (1) analyze TMR accounts to identify potentially environmentally relevant flows (PERF), that is, material flows with potential environmental impacts abroad; (2) assess the socioenvironmental impacts of the identified PERF; and (3) determine the main economic activities underlying these PERF. Using this method we are able to add an environmental dimension to TMR accounts and to make the connection between economic activities and their socioenvironmental impacts worldwide. This methodology has been applied to the Basque Country (BC) region (Spain). An in-depth analysis of the trends in the TMR of the BC shows that tin imports associated with tin capsule production account for around 7% of the TMR. These high figures are due to the substantial hidden flows (HF) of tin imports, which is an indicator of potential environmental impacts abroad. We find that tin extraction and concentration involve several social and environmental impacts such as waste generation, soil, water, and air pollution affecting biodiversity and human health, and child labor. These impacts are located in Indonesia, China, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Malaysia, and Thailand.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Aims
  5. Method
  6. Case Study
  7. Discussion
  8. Conclusions and Final Considerations
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References
  11. About the Author

Concern about the unsustainable levels of environmental damage caused to our planet in the last few decades and the depletion of resources has led to the appearance of numerous strategies and policies intended to decouple human well-being from environmental damage (UNO 2002; CEC 2001).

In this context, industrial ecology offers the opportunity to identify and then implement strategies to reduce the environmental impact of products and processes associated with industrial systems, with the ultimate aim of achieving sustainable paths of development. From this perspective, knowledge about the metabolism of industrial societies is fundamental. It is necessary to learn how industrial systems work, what laws govern them, and how they interact with the biosphere to determine how they should be restructured to render them compatible with the workings of natural ecosystems (Frosch and Gallopoulos 1989).

Fischer-Kowalski (1998) and Fischer-Kowalski and Hüttler (1998) provide an exhaustive historical overview of the emergence and development of the concept of social metabolism—as a way of understanding processes of exchange of materials and energy between the socioeconomic and natural environments. This concept traces its roots to the 1860s, though it is not until a century later that concerns about the environmental impacts of economic growth gave the analysis of social metabolism a boost in the form of material flow analysis (MFA) (Wolman 1965; Boulding 1966 or Ayres and Kneese 1969).

MFA is a useful tool to improve our knowledge of industrial metabolism: It provides a systemic picture of the physical flows of natural resources from extraction to production, use and recycling, to final disposal—taking into account the losses along the way (Adriaanse et al. 1997). This methodology has been used for the study of social metabolism of a wide range of national economies (economy-wide MFA: EW-MFA) (Bringezu et al. 2003).

Total material requirement (TMR) is one of the indicators compiled in EW-MFA. TMR is a measure of all of the material input required by a national economy, including not only the direct use of resources, but also indirect material flows associated with domestic extraction as well as those associated with the production of imported goods—the so-called hidden flows (HF). In economic terms, TMR is a measure of the physical basis of a national economy. In environmental terms, it is a proxy for potential environmental pressures associated with resource extraction. TMR also constitutes a proxy for potential environmental pressures, on a life cycle–wide basis, on both the domestic as well as foreign environments (ETC W and MF 2005).

Despite the usefulness of TMR as an environmental indicator, it has two main shortcomings: firstly, the aggregation of different qualities of material flows to derive aggregated indicators, and secondly, the weak links between TMR and environmental impacts (Matthews et al. 2000; Hinterberger et al. 2003).

Aims

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Aims
  5. Method
  6. Case Study
  7. Discussion
  8. Conclusions and Final Considerations
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References
  11. About the Author

Bearing in mind the shortcomings of the TMR approach, the aim of this article is to show how TMR can still be considered not only a useful tool for learning more about the metabolism of a socioeconomic system, but also for detecting potentially environmentally harmful material flows and related economic activities. We present a method showing how to (1) analyze TMR accounts to identify material flows with potential environmental impacts abroad (potentially environmentally relevant flows: PERF); (2) assess the socioenvironmental impacts of the identified PERF; and (3) determine the main economic activities underlying these PERF. Using this method we are able to add an environmental dimension to TMR accounts and make the connection between economic activities and their socioenvironmental impacts wherever they are located.

Subsequently, this method is applied in a regional case study enabling a resource-intensive, highly contaminating activity and product to be identified. Taking the TMR of the Basque Country (BC) (Spain) as a starting point, we identify tin as a PERF due to its potential environmental impacts. Afterwards, we investigate the socioenvironmental impacts associated with tin flows and identify tin-capsule production as the economic activity linked to tin requirements.

Method

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Aims
  5. Method
  6. Case Study
  7. Discussion
  8. Conclusions and Final Considerations
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References
  11. About the Author

TMR measures the total material input required by a national economy, including the separate measurement of materials that enter the economy directly (direct material input: DMI) and those related to displaced materials as a result of certain economic processes that are not used (“ecological rucksacks” or hidden flows). Some examples of HF include overburden in mining, excavation in construction, or erosion due to agriculture. Pressure on the environment by HF usually defers from one of the materials that enters the industrial system and is transformed into goods and services, although all flows of natural resources cause potential alterations to the environment. The market does not establish a price for the HF, which implies that national economic accounts usually do not gather them. Consequently, the resulting statistics underestimate the dependency on natural resources of an industrial economy, providing policy makers with a distorted image of the physical scale and the consequences of their decisions (Adriaanse et al. 1997).

TMR also accounts for the HF associated with imported materials from other economies. In the current context of the global economy, the materials can originate in one country, be processed in another, be transformed into final goods in a third country, and, finally, be consumed in a fourth. HF associated with these materials could be assigned to the exporting country, alleging that each country would have to be responsible for the environmental damage that is incurred by their exports. This approach, nevertheless, ignores the great asymmetries existing between the industrial economies (which import large amounts of raw materials) and the developing economies, many of which depend to a great extent on the export of these resources and, therefore, undergo the environmental costs of their extraction (Martínez Alier 2004). In addition and in many cases, resource-intensive extraction and processing industries, together with their environmental impacts, are increasingly being shifted to less developed countries (Bringezu et al. 2003). Not accounting for foreign HF would also be to ignore the present physical base of the majority of the industrial economies and the importance, from a global perspective, of a more efficient use of the resources in these economies. Taking the above into account, TMR methodology includes an estimation of the HF associated with imports.

Accounting for imported HF allows the identification of potential environmental impacts abroad that are ignored by most of the conventional environmental indicators. This fact is of great importance in the case of very open economies, as is usually the case with small or regional economies. As we show in the next paragraphs, this strength of TMR methodology can be used to identify PERF from a global perspective as well as the economic activities responsible for these flows. In the following we present a three-step method developed for this purpose.

The first step consists of identifying PERF from a global perspective (Figure 1, step 1). For this purpose we analyze TMR accounts to determine those imported material flows whose HF account for a substantial share of TMR. The TMR methodology developed by the European Environmental Agency (Bringezu and Schütz 2001b) and EUROSTAT (2001) accounts for imports classified according to the harmonized commodity description and coding system (HS classification). These data are compiled from trade statistics in a sufficiently disaggregated manner (372 commodity types, see EUROSTAT 2001, 81–86). HF are estimated using coefficients relating HF to DMI obtained from several data sources (see Adriaanse et al. 1997 or Bringezu and Schütz 2001b) and are compiled using this same classification, allowing the identification of those imported materials with high HF in a detailed way. Subsequently, these data are aggregated in different categories that are very useful at this phase of the analysis. Therefore, taking TMR figures as a starting point, a top-down approach would allow us to identify PERF.

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Figure 1. Using total material requirement (TMR) for identifying PERF from a global perspective. PERF = potentially environmentally relevant flows; HF = hidden flows; DMI = direct material input.

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To determine PERF it is necessary to establish some selection criteria. These can be established in different ways: by ranking foreign HF and focusing on higher ranked materials, by defining a minimum share of the total foreign HF for a HF to be considered, by focusing on materials with higher HF coefficients, or—as will be shown in the case study—by combining these criteria.

Once PERF have been identified, a second step consists in verifying that these flows are effectively associated with significant socioenvironmental impacts in a way that allows an environmental dimension to be included in TMR analysis (Figure 1, step 2). Trade statistics include information on the country of origin of imports and, in some cases, on the province of destination. This information can be used for delimiting the region in which environmental problems should be studied. Data about socioenvironmental impacts in the exporter countries can be compiled from a wide range of sources (official reports and statistics, books, academic journals, NGO reports, the press, fieldwork, and so on).

Furthermore, sometimes it is possible to relate imports and total production of the exporting country.1 These figures represent the share of responsibility of the importing country toward the total impacts of the exporter.

Finally, once environmental impacts have been confirmed, a third step involves identifying the economic activities related to imports (Figure 1, step 3). As in the case of locating environmental impacts abroad, trade statistics can also help to locate the importing activity. As mentioned above, in some cases (e.g., Spain), trade statistics compile import data at the province level (the third level of the Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics of the European Union: NUTS-3). To identify the importing activity a wide number of data sources can be used (producer/exporter/importer databases, industrial associations, the press, and so on). An analysis of the fluctuations of PERF can also provide some useful information at this step of the method.

As an illustrative example, in the following section we will show the main findings of applying this method to a regional case study in Basque Country, Spain.

Case Study

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Aims
  5. Method
  6. Case Study
  7. Discussion
  8. Conclusions and Final Considerations
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References
  11. About the Author

We start with a background section. Afterwards we continue with an analysis of Basque TMR, highlighting the relevance of tin requirements to the Basque TMR. We follow with a summary of tin-related social and environmental impacts worldwide. We conclude by identifying the economic activity (tin-capsule production) that lies behind these tin requirements.

Background

The BC is one of the 17 regions that make up Spain. It is located in the north of the Iberian Peninsula near the frontier between Spain and France and comprises three provinces: Alava, Bizkaia, and Gipuzkoa (Figure 2). The BC has a population of 2.1 million, living on a surface area of a little more than 7,000 square kilometers (km2),2 which results in a population density of 300 inhabitants per km2, as compared with 110 in the EU-27 and 85 in Spain as a whole.

image

Figure 2. Basque Country location map.

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Basque GDP per capita in 2006 was €31,600, 33.7% higher than the average for the EU-27, and 29.6 points higher than that of Spain as a whole. The Basque economy is predominantly industrial: in 2004 industry and construction accounted for 38.1% of its gross value added (GVA).3 Within Basque industry, heavy industry predominates (e.g., the metal industry accounts for 24% of industrial GVA).

Like many other areas, the BC has integrated the principles of sustainable development in its policy agenda. In 2002 the Basque Parliament approved the Basque Environmental Strategy for Sustainable Development 2002–2020 (BESSD) (Basque Government 2002). This document sets out five goals, one of which is to achieve responsible management of natural resources and waste through decoupling economic activity from environmental impacts. To achieve that goal, the 1st Environmental Framework Programme (EFP) 2002–2006, drawn up under the BESSD, included as one of its objectives “maintaining the total material requirement per capita at 1998 levels in 2006” (Basque Government 2002, 31). Subsequently the 2nd EFP 2007–2010 (Basque Government 2007, 65) updated and reworded this objective as follows: “maintaining efficiency in the consumption of resources (material efficiency) [in 2010] at 2001 levels.”

These objectives were included in the Basque political agenda in the wake of the earliest studies of the TMR of the BC (Arto 2002, 2003). Work in this area is ongoing, and broad-ranging data on the inflows and outflows of the industrial metabolism of the BC are now available (Arto 2009).

Since 2002, TMR has been seen as one of the headline environmental indicators of the BC, and it is being used to assess the achievement of goals and objectives of the BESSD and EFP in terms of decoupling resource consumption and material efficiency. However, as we will show in the following sections, TMR can also be used for identifying pollution-intensive activities from a global perspective, as a first step toward developing decoupling strategies.

Analyzing TMR and Identifying PERF

The TMR of the BC has been calculated following the methodology of the European Environmental Agency (Bringezu and Schütz 2001b). Table 1 shows the main sources of information for calculating the Basque TMR (further information on methodology and data sources can be found in Arto 2002, 2003, 2009).

Table 1.  Main sources of information for calculating Basque total material requirement (TMR)
TMR componentSource
Domestic TMR
 Direct material input (DMI)
   AgricultureMinisterio de Medio Ambiente y Medio Rural y Marino [Spanish Ministry of the Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs]: MERMF
Nekazal Ikerketa eta Teknologia S.A. [Public Basque Society for Agriculture Research and Technology]: IKT
   ForestryMERMF, IKT
   FishingIKT
   MiningInstituto Geolígico y Minero Español [Spanish Geological and Mining Institute]: IGME
 Hidden flows (HF)
   ErosionOwn estimates based on Spanish erosion maps from Instituto para la Conservación de la Naturaleza [Institute for Nature Conservation]: ICONA
   Discards in fishingBringezu and Schültz (2001b)
   OverburdenWüppertal Institute Database and Bringezu and Schültz (2001b)
   ExcavationOwn estimates based on several infrastructure construction projects
   DredgingPort Authorities of Bilbao and Pasajes
Foreign TMR
 DMI
   Rest of the worldESTACOM, external trade database of the Instituto Español de Comercio Exterior [Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade]: ICEX
   Rest of SpainSpanish database for interregional trade (C-intereg) and own estimates based on Basque input–output tables
 HF
   Rest of the worldWüppertal Institute Database and Bringezu and Schültz (2001b)
   Rest of SpainWüppertal Institute Database and Bringezu and Schültz (2001b)

TMR numbers give an accurate picture of the socioeconomic structure of the BC. As we pointed out in the background section, heavy industries are very relevant in the Basque economy. These sectors require large quantities of metals that, together with their high HF, contribute to 47% of TMR (Figure 3). This means that the Basque economy is highly material-intensive. In 2004 the TMR of the BC summed 108 tonnes per capita (t/cap; Figure 3),4 a figure similar to that of Finland (106 t/cap; Mäenpää and Mänty 2004) but considerably higher than those of Spain as a whole (50 t/cap, Alonso and Bailón 2003) and the European Union (50 t/cap, Bringezu and Schütz 2001a).5

image

Figure 3. Total material requirement (TMR) of the Basque Country.

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The combination of a high population density and limited availability of resources relative to the size and nature of its production system means that the region depends to a large extent on imported resources: 83% of the TMR is brought in from abroad (Figure 4). This is comparable with the figure for the Netherlands (74%) but considerably higher than those of Spain as a whole (46%) and the European Union (39%). This high material dependency of the BC is an indicator of the existence of potential environmental impacts in other regions due to Basque socioeconomic activity.

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Figure 4. Analyzing Basque total material requirement (TMR) and identifying tin as a potentially environmentally relevant flow (PERF). HF = hidden flows; DMI = direct material input.

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In 2004 HF of imported metals accounted for 41% of TMR, being, in this order: iron and steel, tin, and copper6—the three main materials. In the case of iron and steel, the main reason for these high numbers is the relevance of the steel production industry in the BC. In 2004, steel production in the BC totaled 2.8 t/cap while the average in European Union-27 was 0.4 t/cap. Unwrought tin imports (HS code 8001) HF account for 7% of TMR or 11% of foreign HF (Figure 4). These numbers are due to the high HF of tin: As an average, for every tonne of tin mined there are HF of 6,791 tonnes (Bringezu and Schütz 2001b), ranging from 495 tonnes/tonne (t/t) in Bolivia to 13,577 t/t in Malaysia.7 So, taking into account that tin imports of the BC sum 2,300 tonnes (1.1 kg/cap),8 tin HF represents 15.6 million tonnes (megatons [Mt])9 (7.3 t/cap).

Summing up, we can conclude that tin import HF account for a significant amount of Basque TMR, which points to possible environmental impacts abroad. Consequently, tin can be considered as a PERF, and therefore its related social and environmental impacts will be further investigated in the following subsection.

Investigating Impacts Related to a PERF

Worldwide tin consumption in 2006 totaled 362,000 t: 52% was used in soldering, 16% in tin plate manufacturing, 13% in the chemical industry, and 6% in the production of bronze and tinplate. Sixty-two percent of world demand for tin is concentrated in Asia, 20% in Europe, and 17% in America (ITRI 2007). The amount of tin mined worldwide rose by 52% from 1970 to 2006, to a total of 330,000 tonnes.10

If the HF related to tin mining are included, assuming a ratio of 6,791 tonnes of HF per tonne of tin used (Schütz and Bringezu 2008), the TMR associated with tin is a little more than 2.2 billion tonnes, equivalent to 36% of the overall TMR of Germany in 2004 (Bringezu and Schütz 2001a). An analysis of trends in tin mining reveals that Indonesia, China, and Peru have surpassed Malaysia and Thailand as the world's biggest producers. Ninety-five percent of the world's tin is mined in five countries: Indonesia (39%), China (35%), Peru (12%), Bolivia (5%), and Brazil (3%) (ITRI 2008). According to the U.S. Geological Survey (2009), at current consumption rates, there are tin reserves for 40 years.

Trade statistics used for accounting for foreign material flows in Basque TMR provide information on the importer province and the countries of origin of imports. These data show that, although there are variations from year to year, the province of Alava accounts for 80% of Basque tin imports. The main sources of tin imports to Alava are Peru, Bolivia, Indonesia, and Thailand (last column of Table 2). The last column of Table 2 also shows that between 2000 and 2006 tin imports to Alava absorbed 0.71% of the world's cumulative tin extraction. Thailand (5.31%), Bolivia (4.38%), and Peru (2.25%) are the countries who have exported the greatest share of their tin production to Alava. These figures could be interpreted as a proxy of Basque responsibility in each country's socioenvironmental impacts due to tin extraction.

Table 2.  Tin extraction by country: Hidden flow (HF) ratios, social and environmental impacts, cumulative extraction, and exports to Alava
CountryHF ratioa tonnes/tonneSocial and environmental ImpactsCumulative extractionb 2000–2006, tonnesCumulative exports to Alavac 2000–2006, tonnes (%)
  1. aOwn calculations based on Wuppertal database, assuming a 99.9% metal content in tin imports. HF ratio for world from Bringezu and Schütz (2001b).

  2. cESTACOM, external trade database of the Instituto Español de Comercio Exterior [Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade]: ICEX.

  3. dIn 2001 flooding in a mining area of Dachang in Guangxi province killed 81 miners. More recently in March 2008 a cave-in at a tin mine in Yunnan province killed seven workers.

Indonesia 6,429Vegetation destruction (Pardomuan 2007).  654,500 2,345 (0.36)
Coast abrasion and coral reef destruction (Aspinall and Eng 2001).  
China 3,052Lung cancer in workers due to radon and arsenic in mines (Hazelton et al. 2001).  727,600   129 (0.02)
Arsenic poisoning due to pollution from tin smelting works (An et al. 2004).  
Risks for workers, arising from low safety levelsd.  
Peru   557High rates of morbidity in the local population due to environmental pollution from tailings (ECSA Ingenieros 2007).276,609 6,221 (2.25)
Bolivia   495Effluent discharges containing arsenic, cadmium, iron, lead, zinc, and tin. Disappearance of species of fish and plants and affects on their populatione.  110,243 4,824 (4.38)
Child labor (ILO and UNICEF 2004).  
Confrontations between miners employed by the state and private workers’ co-operatives over control of resourcesf.  
Brazil 3,052Silting up of river courses: irreversible changes in the habits of species, gene bank destruction, soil structures alteration, disease introduction, and nonrecoverable ecological losses (Andrade, 1999).   83,256  100 (0.12)
Malaysia13,577Deterioration in the environment, including waste dumps, deforestation, pollution, and soil erosion (Bashkin 2003; Cleary and Chuan 2000; Balamurugan 1991).   26,991   50 (0.19)
Thailand 5,817Arsenic pollution in groundwater, local people exposed to chronic poisoning which causes skin cancer (Williams et al. 1996; Jindal and Ratanamalya 2005) and changes gene expression (Fry et al. 2007). Destruction of natural habitats (Macintosh et al. 2002).    7,798   414 (5.31)
World 6,791 2,010,60014,290 (0.71)

Tin is a relatively scarce metal, present in just two parts per million in the Earth's crust. Eighty percent of the tin mined in the world is from low-grade alluvial or elluvial deposits with a tin content of around 0.015%. The main mineral with a commercially viable tin content is cassiterite (SnO2), which is extracted using a wide variety of techniques ranging from gravel pumps to dredging and underground mining, depending on the characteristics of each deposit (Gaver 2005). Of less importance are two complex sulfide minerals, stannite (Cu2FeSnS4) and cylindrite (PbSn4FeSb2S14).

Sometimes tin compounds can be found in association with other chemical components such as arsenic, copper, lead, and radon, which, as we will show, can damage human health and natural ecosystems (see Table 2).

Tin itself is not particularly harmful to human health. The main socioenvironmental problems of tin are concerned with the processes used to mine and concentrate it. As mentioned above, tin is found in nature in very low concentrations. This means that a great deal of waste and high levels of discharges and emissions, some of them highly toxic, are generated during the extraction and smelting processes. The high HF of tin, ranging from 495 t/t (Bolivia) to 13,577 t/t (Malaysia), is an indicator of such impacts (Table 2).

Table 2 contains the main socioenvironmental impacts caused in the world's leading tin mining areas. In general, pollution stems from discharges and leaking from mud pits at mines, waste dumps and tailings, and during the smelting process from emissions of contaminants contained within the ore itself or in the fuels and reagents used. Earth removal work in open-cast mines also speeds up the process of erosion and the loss of natural habitats. In other cases, for instance in the mangrove swamps and coral reefs of some parts of Thailand, dredging to extract tin also results in the destruction of natural habitats.

Environmental impacts are shown to have a negative effect on human health in China, Peru, Bolivia, and Thailand. In the case of Bolivia, pollution caused by tin mining and enrichment processes is harmful to other economic activities such as farming and fishing. Furthermore, environmental problems have often given rise to social conflicts, although they have not attained the scale of, for instance, the conflicts surrounding copper mining in Japan, Peru, and Spain (Martínez Alier 2004). Along with these environmental conflicts there is also the struggle for control of resources. Finally, it must also be mentioned that working conditions in most cases entail serious risks to the lives of workers and that the use of child labor has also been reported in Bolivia (ILO and UNICEF 2004).

Once socioenvironmental impacts have been confirmed, the next step involves identifying the economic activity related to tin imports.

Identifying Economic Activity Related to PERF

Between 1998 and 2000 Basque TMR increased 28% (from 82.5 to 105.7 t/cap or 172 to 220 Mt in absolute terms) (see Figure 3). Much of this increase was due to a rise in tin imports in the province of Alava from 0.19 kg/cap (339 t) in 1998 to 0.96 kg/cap (1,989 t) in 2000. Taking into account tin HF, total tin requirements in Alava came to 6.1 t/cap (13.5 Mt), compared with 1.1 t/cap in 1998 (2.3 Mt) (Figure 5). This increase in the tin requirements due to tin imports in Alava accounted for 23% of the overall increase in Basque TMR from 1998 to 2000. The tin requirements have subsequently remained steady, but the increase resulted in a considerable structural growth in the size of the Basque economy.

image

Figure 5. TMR in the Basque Country due to tin imports in Alava province.

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This increase in TMR was caused by the establishment in Alava of Ramondín Cápsulas S.A., a producer of capsules for sealing wine and spirits bottles. Up to 1997 this firm was based in Logroño, the chief city of the neighboring region of La Rioja. It then decided to transfer operations to an industrial area in Laguardia, in the Basque province of Alava.

This relocation resulted in changes in material flows in both Alava and La Rioja. Imports of unwrought tin (HS code 8001) in La Rioja fell from 1,597 tonnes in 1998 to zero in the year 2000. Unwrought tin imports in Alava rose by 1,649 tonnes—from 339 to 1,989 tonnes—in the same period.

Two manufacturers of capsules for bottles are currently based in Alava: Ramondín Cápsulas, S.A. in Laguardia, which employs 400 people and leads the world market with an output of around 550 million units, and Rivercap, S.A., which has been working out of the town of Lapuebla de Labarca since 1990, with 175 employees and an output of 200 million tin capsules. Both firms also produce capsules made of other materials, including polyvinyl chloride and aluminum, but tin capsules remain the mainstay of their business activities.

These firms account for around 70% of the 1.1 billion tin capsules produced each year worldwide. The volume of their operations is reflected in the amount of unwrought tin imported into Alava: In 2007 the figure was 3,012 tonnes (1% of world tin output, 41% of total tin imports into Spain,11 and 5% of total tin imports into EU-27), valued at almost €31 million. Tin capsules are sold to the world's most prestigious wineries, which use them for sealing their high-quality wines and spirits targeted at consumers with moderate to high purchasing power.

The production of tin capsules involves a relatively simple process. First, unprocessed tin ingots are smelted. The tin is then poured from the smelting electric furnace and run through a number of rollers to bring it to the desired thickness. The resulting coils of rolled tin then go on to drawing presses, where die-cut blanks are punched into capsules of the required measurements in various steps. Finally, the capsules are colored. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) may be emitted during this last process,12 but there are no other significant environmental impacts in the whole manufacturing process.

Capsules have long been associated with product quality and nowadays serve a largely aesthetic purpose, but this was not always the case. The first capsules were wax seals, which began to be stamped on bottles in the 18th century by noblemen as a way of authenticating and controlling the wine that they produced and preventing it from being removed from the bottle and replaced by lower quality wine. The problem with sealing wax was that it was highly rigid and therefore broke easily. To overcome this problem, capsules made of an alloy of tin and lead that covered the neck of the bottle began to be produced in Hungary in 1789.

In the early 1990s restrictions were introduced on the use of lead in numerous products, since prolonged exposure can result in poisoning. The migration of lead from capsules to the corks in wine bottles was first detected by Ferré and Jaulmes in 1948 (McDonald 1981). This means that wine bottled using tin-lead capsules could contain this heavy metal. Subsequently, the joint FAO/WHO commission for the Codex Alimentarius made a recommendation in 1990 against the use of lead capsules on wine bottles (FAO 1991). As a consequence the European Union banned the use of capsules containing lead for sealing bottles containing alcoholic beverages as from January 1, 1993, because of the risk of contamination entailed by their lead content (CoEC 1992). The use of tin capsules containing lead was also prohibited in the USA in 1996.13 As a result, most tin capsules are nowadays made of tin with a purity of more than 99.95%.

Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Aims
  5. Method
  6. Case Study
  7. Discussion
  8. Conclusions and Final Considerations
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References
  11. About the Author

Despite the shortcomings of TMR as an environmental indicator, it can be considered a useful tool for detecting potentially environmentally harmful material flows and related economic activities that could go unnoticed using conventional approaches. This has been highlighted in our case study.

As mentioned before, tin itself is not particularly harmful to human health (or to the environment), and since the prohibition of the use of lead in capsules, there are no significant direct environmental impacts due to tin capsule consumption. Moreover, tin capsule manufacturing has no significant environmental impacts either. The only impact would be the emission of VOCs, which has already been addressed by the Basque Government.14 Therefore, using conventional environmental indicators, policy makers could hardly identify tin capsule production as a potentially contaminating activity, and they would probably not even notice that the region provides a large proportion of the world's tin capsules. Policy makers usually pay attention to other environmental drivers, for instance, in the case of Europe, to pollution-intensive activities (CoEU 1996), industries producing energy-using products (EP and C 2005), or chemical industries (EP and C, 2006).

TMR shows via HF that there are some potential environmental impacts abroad associated with tin flows that would be ignored in conventional indicators. From this starting point, these impacts can be analyzed and the underlying activities that give rise to tin flows can be investigated. We have shown that the main socioenvironmental problems of tin are concerned with the first steps of the life cycle of tin: its mining and concentration. These impacts are located in developing countries. High HF of tin would be an indicator of such impacts.

Taking into account the relevance of the material flows associated with tin capsules and their social and environmental impacts, a need for implementing decoupling strategies arises. The alternative adopted in the future should be determined by an in-depth analysis covering all of the different aspects of the problem (social, environmental, economic, and institutional). From the environmental viewpoint, the use of tools such as life cycle analysis, raw material equivalents, or carbon footprint would be very helpful.

Conversely, another argument exists that reinforces the need for reducing tin use for wine capsule production. For instance, tin is an essential component in soldering. Therefore, from a global viewpoint, it may appear to be a waste to use finite tin reserves to produce a good which, in its use, is merely aesthetic, as wine capsules are. As stated by Georgescu-Roegen (1975), putting an end to patterns of consumption based not on necessity but rather on desires or fashions is the least that we should do, especially in cases such as tin capsules, where the product in question is associated with major socioenvironmental impacts in developing countries while they are, at the same time, taking resources from essential uses (e.g., soldering).

MFA also provides other tools for analyzing impacts on a life cycle–wide basis. The so-called raw material equivalents (RME) express the total amount of raw material used that is directly and indirectly required for manufacturing a product along the production chain. Nevertheless, RMEs do not cover unused flows such as the overburden from mining. Some experts argue that the unused flows should also be taken into account as they are related to environmental pressures and potential impacts (Bringezu et al. 2003). Our approach, as we have seen, takes HF into account, thereby complementing RME analysis.

HF coefficients, unfortunately, have a high level of uncertainty (Marco et al. 2000). Data on foreign HF are still largely lacking. In the case of the TMR of the BC, HF have been calculated following the methodology described in Bringezu and Schütz (2001b), which establishes a fixed HF ratio for tin (6,791 t/t). However, recalculating tin HF using country-specific ratios from the Wuppertal Institute database results in lower HF for tin exports to Alava (Table 3). On the whole, cumulative HF due to tin exports to Alava between 2000 and 2006 would be 74% lower using country-specific HF ratios. Nevertheless, these country specific ratios need to be considered carefully because they are outdated. For instance, metal contents in crude ores used for estimating these HF ratios refer to the year 1982 and probably have decreased since then. Thus, as pointed out by Bringezu and colleagues (2003), increased efforts are required for international harmonization of accounting conventions and the provision and quality control of data coefficients needed to account for hidden flows of imports and exports.

Table 3.  Hidden flows (HF) of tin exports to Alava: World average versus country-specific HF ratios
CountryHF ratioa tonnes/tonneCumulative exports Alava, 2000–2006 tonnesCumulative HF due to tin exports, 2000–2006 World average ratiob MtCumulative HF due to tin exports, 2000–2006 Country specific ratio MtDifference (%)
  1. aOwn calculations based on Wuppertal database, assuming a 99.9% metal content in tin imports.

  2. bWorld average ratio 6,791 t/t (Bringezu and Schütz 2001b).

  3. Note: Mt = megatons

Indonesia6,429 2,34515.9215.08 −5%
China 3,052   129 0.88 0.39−55%
Peru   557 6,22142.25 3.47−92%
Bolivia   495 4,82432.76 2.39−93%
Brazil 3,052   100 0.68 0.31−55%
Malaysia13,577    50 0.34 0.68100%
Thailand 5,817   414 2.81 2.41−14%
Total 14,29095.6424.7174%

Another controversial point regarding the use of HF as a proxy for environmental impacts is the fact that high HF ratios do not necessary imply high environmental impacts. Some evidence suggests, however, that there is a relationship between both variables. This would be the case with some minerals such as gold, copper, or diamonds, in which extraction involves both high HF and relevant social and environmental impacts (Martínez Alier 2004).

Conclusions and Final Considerations

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Aims
  5. Method
  6. Case Study
  7. Discussion
  8. Conclusions and Final Considerations
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References
  11. About the Author

The present article has shown the potential applicability of the TMR approach to identifying the driving forces behind environmental degradation processes worldwide, as a first step in designing strategies for decoupling the production and consumption of goods and services from resource depletion and pollution.

Although TMR does not enable any statements related to toxicity and health risks, it does provide signals of the existence of environmental impacts abroad that should be investigated. The accounting for HF contained in the TMR approach allows us to identify the existence of environmental impacts at the global level that could hardly be identified under the conventional environmental indicator framework. In addition, TMR accounts provide some additional information about the location of these impacts and related activities, pointing to the need for developing improvement options.

We have presented a method that shows how TMR accounts can be read to add an environmental dimension to them and to make the connection between economic activities in importing regions and social and environmental loads in exporting countries.

A case study involving the production of tin capsules in the BC illustrates how gaining knowledge about the social metabolism on the basis of a regional TMR can help identify highly material-intensive activities along with the impacts that they generate worldwide. An in-depth analysis of the trends in the TMR of the BC shows that tin imports associated with tin-capsule production account for around 7% of the TMR. These high figures are due to the large HF of tin imports, which is an indicator of potential environmental impacts abroad. We find that tin extraction and concentration involve several social and environmental impacts such as waste generation, soil, water, and air pollution affecting biodiversity and human health, and child labor. These impacts are located in Indonesia, China, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Malaysia, and Thailand.

On account of the information provided by the Basque TMR, policy makers have paid attention to tin-capsule production as a contaminating activity from a global perspective—which otherwise would hardly have been detected. Nowadays, the Basque Government and the world's largest producer of tin capsules are working together to develop decoupling strategies, which stresses the usefulness of the process of gathering information on social metabolism for the stakeholders involved.

Further research could extend the present analysis to other products made up of minerals that occur in low concentrations and have high HF ratios with potentially dangerous effects on the environment such as gold or precious stones. Another research area could focus on ways to improve the data quality of HF.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Aims
  5. Method
  6. Case Study
  7. Discussion
  8. Conclusions and Final Considerations
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References
  11. About the Author

I would like to express my gratitude to IHOBE, Public Society of Environmental Management of the Basque Government Department for Environment and Land Use, for its financial support. I would also like to thank David Hoyos from the University of the Basque Country for his very detailed and helpful comments on the manuscript as well as thank the Associate Editor, Ester van der Voet, and three anonymous reviewers who also made valuable suggestions for its improvement.

Notes
  • 1

    In the case of minerals, the U.S. Geological Survey provides information on extraction for a large number of countries and commodities. In the case of agricultural products, FAO statistics provide information on harvested crops by country.

  • 2

    One square kilometer (km2, SI) = 100 hectares (ha) ≈ 0.386 square miles ≈ 247 acres.

  • 3

    The share of industry and construction in GVA in the EU-27 is 25.4%. Czech Republic, with 37.2%, has the highest figure in the EU-27.

  • 4

    One tonne (t) = 103 kilograms (kg, SI) ≈ 1.102 short tons.

  • 5

    Note that these differences are also influenced by the scale of the analysis (regional versus national).

  • 6

    Copper HF figures are due to both high HF ratio (300 t/t, Bringezu and Schütz 2001b) and the relevance of copper tube and wire manufacturing industries in the BC.

  • 7

    Following the guidelines of the European Environmental Agency (Bringezu and Schütz 2001b), tin HF were calculated using the world average ratio of 6,791 t/t.

  • 8

    One kilogram (kg, SI) ≈ 2.204 pounds (lb).

  • 9

    One megaton (Mt) = 106 tonnes (t) = one teragram (Tg, SI) ≈ 1.102 × 106 short tons.

  • 10

    These figures do not include recycled (secondary) tin, which stands at around 30,000 tonnes worldwide.

  • 11

    Spain's imports can be taken as similar to its total input, as tin is not mined in the country.

  • 12

    In 2006, the wine capsule manufacturer Ramondín emitted 217 tonnes of VOC (EPER 2008).

  • 13

    The relevant legislation is contained in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21: Food and drugs, Chapter I: Food and Drug Administration, Department of Health and Human Services, Part 189: Substances prohibited from use in human food, Part 189.301: Tin-coated lead foil capsules for wine bottles.

  • 14

    In 2006 the Basque government granted a €123,000 subsidy to Ramondín for the reduction of VOC emissions.

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  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Aims
  5. Method
  6. Case Study
  7. Discussion
  8. Conclusions and Final Considerations
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References
  11. About the Author
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About the Author

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Aims
  5. Method
  6. Case Study
  7. Discussion
  8. Conclusions and Final Considerations
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References
  11. About the Author

Iñaki Arto is senior researcher at the Instituto de Economía Publica [Institute for Public Economics] of the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain.