Quantifying the Metabolism of Individual Households
Licentiate thesis, 2013
The magnitude of the flows of matter and energy resulting from human activities is influenced by human needs and demands as well as the practices and technologies applied to fulfil them. The aim of this study was to explore differences in resource use and waste generation between individual households through the simultaneous quantification of physical flows entering and leaving the households. A pilot study was initiated where infrastructure-mediated sensing was combined with manual data collection approaches for fine-grained monitoring of resource use and waste generation at the level of individual households. A further aim was to relate resource and waste flows to specific household activities. This thesis presents the main findings from the pilot study, embeds the concept of household metabolism within the research field of socio-economic metabolism, and outlines which other research fields contribute to, or benefit from the quantification of household metabolism. The main scientific contribution of this thesis is the development and evaluation of two approaches for the collection of highly disaggregated data on goods consumption and related waste generation. In conclusion, comprehensive data collection at the level of detail envisaged in this study is challenging. Data collection can potentially be significantly simplified once easy to install single-point sensors for sensing disaggregated consumption data become commercially available, and data on goods consumption can be more readily obtained from retailers. Based on the work on household metabolism presented in this thesis, two meaningful possible directions for future research emerge. First, quantification of household metabolism can be embedded in living lab facilities in order to assess the impact of innovations on resource consumption and waste generation. Second, researchers and household members could co-develop a way to comprehensively track and evaluate resource consumption and waste generation of individual households. This could include seeking cooperation with supermarkets and retailers to provide consumption data to households.