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Community Materials Flow Analysis: A Case Study of Ann Arbor, Michigan [Master's Thesis]

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Materials move through communities in the form of products and raw materials to satisfy human needs such as shelter and transportation. Though the flows of materials into and out of communities provide benefits, inefficient material flows result in social, environmental and economic costs. The efficiency of material flows can be improved by reducing the mass of materials used to meet the needs of communities as long as the reduced flows still provide the same services and the change does not introduce greater social, environmental and economic costs elsewhere.

This report presents estimates for the mass and economic value of flows of selected materials used to meet the need for food and water, shelter, communication, transportation, and clothing in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1997. The methodology developed for this study is presented as a possible approach for materials flow analysis in other communities. The inflow and outflow estimates from this study are used to develop recommendations to reduce the mass of material flows. Analytical tools are also introduced to help community leaders prioritize the implementation of recommendations.

The inflow and outflow masses (in tons) estimated are 22 million and 21 million for Water, 128,000 and 15,000 for building materials (Shelter), 127,000 and 13,000 for food and beverages (Food), 19,000 and 19,000 for printed material (Communications), 18,000 and 16,000 for ground motor vehicles and their maintenance materials (Transportation), and 2,900 and 2,200 for clothing and footwear (Clothing). The economic value of inflows as measured by retail price (in millions) are $330 for food, $240 for clothing, $200 for transportation, $120 for shelter, $96 for communication, and $9.7 for water. These estimates include only selected materials that directly satisfy the human need for each category.

Ann Arbor has one of the nation's most progressive waste management programs, so the community should focus on strategies to reduce its inflow of materials. This can be accomplished by increasing the efficiency with which materials are used to meet functional needs in order to reduce consumption, or by redesigning or rethinking the way functional needs are met to develop alternative systems.

Research Areas
Urban Systems and Built Environment
Publication Type
Master's Thesis
Digital Object Identifier
Full Citation

Garvin, L., N. Henry and M. Vernon. 2000. Community Materials Flow Analysis: A Case Study of Ann Arbor, Michigan. University of Michigan: Ann Arbor.