A quick casual-Friday post featuring a distribution diagram of scrap (waste) exported from the United States in 2017. Based on data from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI). Submitted by a reader of this blog.

The EU funded PROSUM research project looks at ‘Prospecting Secondary raw materials in the Urban mine and Mining wastes’. The more than 15 institutions participating in the project have recently published their findings in a final report.

The report has some interesting Sankey diagrams on market input, stocks, waste generation and waste flows for product groups such as vehicles, batteries, precious materials and selected critical raw materials (CRMs) contained in batteries, electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) and vehicles.

Here is the diagram for vehicles in the EU28+2 (=EU28 plus Switzerland and Norway) market. Data relates to the year 2015.

Flows are in tons and ktons, blending two scales in one diagram. This merits its own post, I think. (read it here)

The electric vehicles currently driving on the roads are shown as “Stock”, meaning that the materials are in use and that they could eventually be recovered at the end of the life of the vehicle. This is the large stackd bar between “POM” (placed on market) and “De-reg Vehicles”. Again this stacked bar uses two different scales (tons and ktons).

Official report citation: Jaco Huisman, Pascal Leroy, François Tertre, Maria Ljunggren Söderman, Perrine Chancerel, Daniel Cassard, Amund N. Løvik, Patrick Wäger, Duncan Kushnir, Vera Susanne Rotter, Paul Mählitz, Lucía Herreras, Johanna Emmerich, Anders Hallberg, Hina Habib, Michelle Wagner, Sarah Downes. Prospecting Secondary Raw Materials in the Urban Mine and mining wastes (ProSUM) – Final Report, ISBN: 978-92-808-9060-0 (print), 978-92-808-9061-7 (electronic), December 21, 2017, Brussels, Belgium

Ann Arbor based consulting firm RRS has published a Sankey diagam visualization of the plastic streams in the United States. This is from their Data Corner blog.

Breakdown is in percentage values only. The amount of 8,300 MMT seems to be an aggregated figure for a 65 year period from 1950 to 2015. And 80% has ended up on landfills.

Original data is from a study ‘Production, Use, and Fate of All Plastics Ever Made’ authored by Roland Geyer of the University of California, Santa Barbara; Jenna Jambeck of the University of Georgia; and Kara Law from the Sea Education Association.

This week the global plastics flows topic made the news and social media with the publication of the EU Plastics Strategy and Chancellor Philip Hammond presenting the United Kingdom’s plan for tackling plastic waste.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation has long been active in research and awareness building in this field. It aims at supporting a transition to a circular economy. The foundation tweeting under @circulareconomy contributed this Sankey diagram. It is from a 2016 report they produced together with the World Economic Forum and McKinsey.

The Sankey diagram shows indeed, that “today, plastic packaging material flows are largely linear”. This beautifully crafted diagram had already caught my attention back in 2016 when I first saw it.

However, I had this subtle feeling that something was wrong here. Not regarding the content or the data … but rather that something wasn’t OK in the Sankey diagram, Just my gut feeling. Now, seeing the Sankey diagram again in the above tweet this week, I finally sat to quickly do a remake of this Sankey diagram. Here it is:

I stuck to the original layout and design as closely as possible, using the same color codes and even the white all caps font. While transfering the numbers (all percentage values, so no issue there), it immediately became clear to me what caused my irritation. Can you identify it yourself by comparing the two pics?

Won’t give it away now and wait for your comments. Will post the answers to this small ‘spot-the-difference contest’ here next week.

[Edit 24 Jan] Blog reader ‘First!’ was the first to comment and point out that the 2% recycling flow does not seem to be to scale (i.e too wide / overemphasized) in the Sankey diagram published by Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and possibly the same issue with the two arrows representing 14% each.

A rather simple Sankey diagram. It can be found on p. 195 of a study on Food Waste in Germany by ISWA, Stuttgart University comissioned by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agrriculture (BMEL). Flows are in million tons per year (averaged for the five-year period 2003 to 2007).


The yellow streams represent food delivered to individual housholds (“Haushalte”) as well as to commercial (large scale) users (“Grossverbraucher”) such as restaurants. The orange arrows show food waste (10 mo. tons p.a.). Note that individual households have a higher reject rate.

What happens to yard waste and biowaste in Germany? This Sankey diagram from a 2014 PowerPoint presentation titled ‘Flächendeckender Ausbau der Biotonne in Deutschland’ by Peter Krause and Rüdiger Oetjen-Dehne (u.e.c. Berlin) shows how these flows were distributed.

In 2012 there were 14.5 mio. tonnes of yard waste andd 6.6 mi. tonnes of bio waste (kitchen/food waste) were disposed of in Germany. Much of it was collected and treated or – such as in the case of yard waste – composted (7.8 mio. tonnes).

In addition to the absolute quantities the labels along the Sankey arrows show the average per inhabitant (kg/E, a).

A large potential is still in bio waste (orange-coloured arrow) being disposed of in regular household waste (“Restabfall”). Calls for separate collection of bio waste for energy recovery are being made.

Rytec, a Swiss-based consulting firm, is the author of a 2011 report that compares 29 waste incinerators in Switzerland in regard to their energy flows.

The report ‘Einheitliche Heizwert- und Energiekennzahlenberechnung der Schweizer KVA nach europäischem Standardverfahren’ (translation: Uniform heating value and energy indicators calculation for Swiss waste incinerators according to European standard method) was comissioned by Swiss Environment Agency (BFU) and Swiss Energy Agency (BFE).

The annex contains 29 Sankey diagrams like the following:

All waste incinerator Sankey diagrams are structured similarly, allowing direct comparison of efficiency and energy output mix. Data is for 2009.

The first diagram is for KVA Basel (waste incinerator Basel), the second for KVA Oftringen (waste incinerator Oftringen, Aargau). Basel is much larger (incinerated waste with energy content of 710 GWh in 2009) and serves an urban area. Oftringen is smaller and seems to be more of a regional waste incinerator (incinerated waste with energy content of 237 GWh in 2009).

Basel apparently sells off the heat to the district heating system or neighbouring industry (yellow arrow ‘Wäremexport’) and converts only a small fraction to electricity. Oftringen on the other hand sells off electric energy (43 GWh) with apparent losses (grey arrow 122,5 GWh).

A lot more to discover when comparing these two (and the other 27) Sankey diagrams.

Yesterday it became known that the European Commission would shelve their circular economy package of waste, recycling and incineration laws for now, in favour of an even more ambitious legislation to be presented by end-2015 (read here or here).

That led me to browse tweets using the hashtag #circulareconomy, and I ended up unearthing two nice Sankey diagrams…

The first one is by WRAP UK, showing the EU-27 material flows estimated in 2020. This is not for a specific type of material, but all material.

Flows are in million tonnes, with the 2020 values in blue, and the current (2010) figures in brackets below for comparison. There are three nodes: ‘Direct Material Input’, ‘Domestic Material Consumption’ and ‘Waste’. Unfortunately the size of the node icons is too large, and the flows are difficult to see. But still, this is a nice idea!

The main message is that in comparison to 2010, Europe could have 350 million tonnes of recycled material in 2020. Check out these Sankey diagrams by WRAP UK that basically convey the same messsage, but are less infographic.

Another Sankey diagram I found when browsing through the tweets was this one below. The title of the diagram is “How circular is th UK?”.

I found it in a blog post ‘Designing Out Waste Consortium’ by Ramon Arratia on Interface’s Cut The Fluff blog on sustainability, but it is originally from this Green Alliance blog post by Julie Hill.

No values shown along the flows in this Sankey diagram, but neatly shaped circular flows. The question raised in the title is answered prominently with the message that 19% of the material in the UK is led in a loop (pink flow).