Munich's residents consume four times more resources than deemed sustainable

Munich’s residents, on average, use 32 tonnes of raw materials per person per year. This is 11 tonnes more than the German average and four times the estimated ‘sustainable’ level of 8 tonnes per person per year, a threshold established by UNEP and the International Resource Panel needed to support ‘a safe operating space’ on Earth. However, this trend of overconsumption could be reversed if the city fully embraces the circular economy.

These are some of the main findings of the Circularity Gap Report Munich, the first-ever study measuring the Circularity Gap of a city. This report measures the city’s material consumption, material cycling, consumption-based carbon footprint* and other indicators.

The study points out that, like many metropolises, Munich almost entirely relies on imports to satisfy its needs. It gets 48% of its materials from Germany, 16% from Europe and 36% from the rest of the world. But while resources are consumed locally, the environmental pressures stemming from their extraction, processing and transportation are felt globally. 

What’s more, the average Munich resident is responsible for 23 tonnes of consumption-based carbon emissions annually.* This is almost two-thirds more than the German average and is nearly 2.5 times the footprint of the average EU citizen. 

Such a high carbon footprint* is linked to the overconsumption of raw materials—a common occurrence for wealthy cities like Munich. For example, the city is known for its robust manufacturing industry and booming service economy. Both industries are big consumers and emitters.* While a service economy can help decouple value from raw material use, it still drives material consumption as necessary infrastructure is built up through construction, and as buildings are heated and maintained—activities that demand massive amounts of materials and energy. 

A circular economy can serve as a means to maintain Munich’s citizens’ high quality of life while substantially reducing negative impacts elsewhere, such as climate change, deforestation and biodiversity loss. The report estimates that of all materials consumed by the local economy annually, 2.4% are recycled materials, which is low compared to the global average of 7.2%. To improve these and other key circularity indicators, Munich is advised to adopt circular economy strategies in high-impact areas like construction, manufacturing, transport, food and lifestyle choices.

Like in many growing cities, construction is the largest contributor to Munich’s material consumption and carbon footprint,* claiming 21% of annual material use—meaning that strategies targeting this sector are the most impactful ones. The report advises, for example, that the city could limit urban sprawl and focus on preserving and repurposing existing buildings. In addition, Munich might speed up existing efforts to boost the building stock’s energy efficiency. 

Encouraging circularity in manufacturing could also deliver sizable benefits. However, much depends on Munich’s residents. Shifting their lifestyle choices towards buying fewer items and keeping them for longer could cut the city’s material use by around 10%. At the same time, local producers can bolster circularity by designing their products for easy repair and recycling.

The study acknowledges the successes of Munich’s circular economy strategy with initiatives like investment in public transport, community gardens and remanufacturing activities, but calls for bolder action to accelerate the circular transition. If all recommendations mentioned in the report were implemented, Munich’s material use could be reduced by 43%, and the carbon footprint* could be lowered by 22%. 

*The Circularity Gap Report Munich was commissioned by CIRCULAR REPUBLIC and authored by Circle Economy Foundation. This report uses a consumption-based carbon accounting approach for emissions from goods and services consumed by the residents of a locality, regardless of where those emissions occur. However, normally a territorial-based methodology is used in Germany to calculate greenhouse gas (GHG) balances at the municipal level, using the BISKO standard. Thus, Munich's GHG balances following BISKO standard should and can not directly be compared with the results of this study.

Read the full Circularity Gap Report Munich here