Phosphorous (P) is an essential element of life. Without phosphorous in the form of phosphate, there would be no bones, no DNA, no conversion of food to energy, and even no food. Phosphorous, along with nitrogen and potassium, is often the limiting factor for plant growth.
The major recycling routes for phosphorus are animal manure and crop residues. Important to note is the enormous loss by erosion which is comparable to crop uptake. Phosphorus is lost from arable soil by erosion and leaching, and transported by rivers to the oceans.
Current environmental standards restrict the use of waste water treatment sludge and manure in agriculture. Like that, the contained phosphorous cannot be reused.
The losses are compensated with mined mineral phosphate fertilizers. Phosphate rock deposits are not only scarce resources but mostly also contaminated with heavy metals and radionuclides. Thus, heavy metals and radionuclides enter the food chain and accumulate in groundwater.
Environmental standards impeding phosphorous recycling and phosphorous use practices must be questioned. This includes in particular standards for organic agriculture. In the following we refer to some position papers of EPEA on biological nutrient management and other documents showing the necessity of phosphorous management.
Position papers of EPEA
- EPEA. Ecological performance profile of procedures for treatment of biogenic residues. Compass for decision-making on the background of planned updating of the German law on renewable energies. Developed together with the German Association of the Humus and Soil Economy (VHE). 2008 (German). Read more here.
- EPEA. Protection of soils, resources and the climate via composting in Germany. Devel-oped together with the German Association of the Humus and Earth Economy (VHE). 2004 (German). Read more here.
- Syers et al 2011. Phosphorus and Food Production. UNEP YEAR BOOK 2011
- US Geological Survey 2014. Phosphate Rock.
- Cordell D and White S. Sustainable Phosphorus Measures: Strategies and Technologies for Achieving Phosphorus Security. Agronomy 2013, 3, 86-116; doi:10.3390/agronomy3010086
Published by EPEA Internationale Umweltforschung, November 2015