Material flows in the UK

To help visualise how circular our economy is, and the progress we are making, WRAP has developed Sankey diagrams comparing the material and waste flows around the UK economy in 2000 and 2010:

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Difference between 2010 and 2020 sankey diagrams

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We would like to note that the materials flows on the sankey diagrams are not completely consistent around the bottom of the loops.  This is especially the case for the 2000 diagram.  This is because the waste arisings and waste management numbers are taken from completely different datasets, which do not overlap in terms of source or geographic range. 

These show that between 2000 and 2010, there was:

  • 30Mt less direct material input going into the economy
  • 30Mt less being consumed by the economy
  • 70Mt less waste generated
  • 70Mt more materials recycling and going back into the economy
  • 55Mt less going to landfill and EfW


  • Between the years 2000 and 2010 UK GDP expanded by 20% and the population grew by 6%.  This increase in the size of the economy occurred despite the recession triggered by the financial crisis towards the end of the decade.
  • By contrast direct material inputs to the UK economy, our consumption of materials and waste generated declined between 2000 and 2010 suggesting that there is no longer a strong link between GDP and materials use and waste. 
  • The decrease in domestic material extraction is largely due to a decrease in mineral extraction in the UK (sand/gravel and crushed stone) especially at the end of the decade. Biomass extraction (agricultural harvest and animal grazing) is constant throughout the decade. 
  • WRAP believes that some of the economic “decoupling” described above may be structural and some is likely to be cyclical. A good example of cyclical impact is the fall in minerals extracted at the end of the decade because of the economic downturn, which particularly affected the construction sector.
  • The quantity of material being recycled has more than doubled in the decade. The recycling sector has grown strongly - there has been a 3-fold increase in sales turnover since 1998 and over this period the sector’s growth has outstripped growth in the overall economy. Today the recycling sector generates more than £10 billion in sales, employs over 30,000 people, and contributes around £3 billion in gross value added to the UK economy
  • 15Mt of these recyclates are exported (compare with 6Mt exported in 2000). This is 20% of total material exported by weight (excluding fossil fuels). More than £5bn worth of recovered materials are sent abroad for reprocessing but diverting these resources into higher value add activity in the UK could help further boost the UK economy.