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A review of recent substance flow analyses of phosphorus to identify priority management areas at different geographical scales

Version 2 2024-06-12, 15:35
Version 1 2019-05-17, 12:56
journal contribution
posted on 2024-06-12, 15:35 authored by RB Chowdhury, GA Moore, AJ Weatherley, M Arora
The dwindling global reserves of extractable phosphorus (P) and its growing demand to produce the required food for a burgeoning global population (the global P crisis) necessitate the sustainable use of this crucial resource. To advert the crisis requires informed policy decisions which can only be obtained by a better understanding of the nature and magnitude of P flow through different systems at different geographical scales. Through a systematic and in-depth review of twenty one recent substance flow analyses of P, we have assessed the key P inflows, outflows, stocks, internal flows, and recycling flows at the city, regional, and country scales. The assessment has revealed, the main inflow and outflow of P at the city scale occurs through food and wastewater respectively, while the main stock of P occurs in landfill. At the regional scale, mineral ore is the main P inflow and chemical P fertilizer is the main outflow particularly in the regions that have P fertilizer production sector. In contrast, either chemical P fertilizer or animal feed is the key inflow and either food and agricultural products or soil losses (erosion, runoff, and/or leaching) is the major outflow especially in the regions without P fertilizer production sector. At the country scale, the key P inflow occurs either through mineral ore or chemical P fertilizer and the key outflow takes place either as food and agricultural products, waste (both solid and liquid), or soil losses (erosion, runoff, and/or leaching). The main stock of P both at the regional and country scales occurs in the soil of the agricultural production sector. As identified in this assessment, the key unproductive outflows and stocks at different geographical scales indicate that there is a potential scope to improve P management through the increased P recovery and recycling, and by the utilization of available soil P stocks. In many of the studies at all the geographical scales, P recycling flow has been found to be less than 20% of the total inflow, and even in some studies at the country scale, P recycling has been found to be entirely absent, which is a clear indication of poor P management. This study has also identified, there is a clear knowledge gap in relation to understanding the P flow over multiple years at the regional scale. The information about the key flows and stocks at different geographical scales as we identified can be utilized to make better P policy and management decisions for a city, region, or country. The information can also be used to guide future research that aims to analyze P flow at the city, regional, and country scales.



Resources, Conservation and Recycling






Amsterdam, The Netherlands







Publication classification

C2.1 Other contribution to refereed journal

Copyright notice

2013, Elsevier B.V.



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