The massive use of pesticides has caused environmental problems, and it is urgent to reduce the use of pesticides. Pesticide use is closely related to social and economic activities, but few studies have quantified the contribution of socioeconomic factors to changes in pesticide use. Hence, based on the multiregional input–output (MRIO) model and structural decomposition analysis (SDA), this study quantified the contribution of pesticide use intensity, production structure, local consumption and distant consumption to changes in pesticide use in China from 2012 to 2017 and further analysed the effect of distant consumption on local pesticide use at the provincial and sectoral levels. The results showed that the total use of pesticides showed a downward trend during 2012-2017. Specifically, the intensity of pesticide use was an important factor for the decrease in pesticide use, resulting in a decrease of 4.9´105 tons of pesticide use. Nevertheless, local and distant consumption were the primary factors for the increase in pesticide use, resulting in increases of 4.37×105 and 1.21×105 tons, respectively. More importantly, provinces with high added value of primary industry bear the risk of pesticide pollution in provinces with high per capita GDP due to distant consumption. Moreover, the agriculture and food sectors are the most important sectors affected by distant consumption. Therefore, it is necessary to clarify provincial and sectoral responsibilities for pesticide use due to distant consumption and to encourage cross-regional technical support and sectoral cooperation for pesticide reduction.