ICS Seminar Series - Ruth Lane

Date: Thursday 25 May 2017
Time: 11.30am–1pm
Venue: EB.G.35, Western Sydney University, Parramatta South campus

Ruth Lane

(Monash University)

The Role of Material Flow Analysis (MFA) in Assembling Resources for a Circular Economy


The idea of a circular economy implies a shift in thinking about the temporality of manufactured products and materials to include a greater portion of their lifespan inside, as opposed to outside, the mainstream economy. Most interpretations of circular economy envisage a shift towards material and energy efficiency, and there is considerable focus on how used products and materials might become feedstock for new production processes, with a resulting reduction in the generation of waste. My concern is with how material resources are to be (re)assembled in the circular economy. Geographers and anthropologists researching extractive industries have drawn attention to how resources in extractive industries are assembled, rhetorically (though framings of resource security), through calculative techniques used to appraise the potential of resources for future extraction, and through the implementation of regulatory regimes that serve to secure rights of access (Bakker and Bridge 2008, Li 2014, Bridge 2015, Weszkalnys 2015). Parallels can be drawn between the role of rhetorical framings, calculative techniques and regulatory measures in mining and in urban mining (the recycling of end of used products and materials). The paper is organised into three sections. The first is concerned with unpacking the ideas and rhetoric of materials efficiency in a circular economy. The second reviews of the role of metrology in assembling new resources, then introduces a key methodological instrument for calculating materials efficiency – Material Flow Analysis (MFA). In the 3rd section, I present examples of specific applications of MFA undertaken as part of the Wealth from Waste interdisciplinary research program and offer some preliminary reflections on the work that MFA performs in "worlding" a materials efficient circular economy.


Ruth Lane is Senior Lecturer in Human Geography within the School of Social Sciences at Monash University. Her current research focuses on flows of goods and materials through households, cities and around the world, and critically engages with governance arrangements, regulatory frameworks and social practices involved in transforming used products and materials into new resources. From 2013-16 she led the Monash University interdisciplinary research program within the Wealth from Waste cluster (opens in a new window), a collaboration between the CSIRO, four Australian universities and the Centre for Industrial Ecology at Yale University.