Integral guidance document for phosphorus recovery and recycling D12.1
Whether or not there will be a phosphorus (P) peak within decades, centuries or millennia, (Cordell and White, 2011; Scholz and Wellmer, 2013) one thing is for sure – phosphorus is a limited and, in its function as a nutrient, an essential and irreplaceable resource (Asimov, 1959; Smil, 2000; Filippelli, 2008). The debate on P limitation is often mentioned as motivation to foster activities regarding P recovery and recycling. The ambition of the European Commission (EC) to establish a circular economy in Europe goes far beyond that and is not primarily motivated by limitations of certain raw materials. From the European perspective and in the light of having just one small mine in Finland, the geopolitics and economic vulnerability are issues to be taken seriously. Europe is highly dependent on phosphorus imports (De Ridder et al., 2012) as reflected by the quantities given in figure 1. In contrast to the above mentioned issues, the waste and dissipation of phosphorus that exists in developed countries may lead to a different conclusion. The global resource efficiency for P along the supply chain from mine to fork is only 20% (Schröder et al., 2010). Given the figures of 225 million tons P rock globally mined in 2013 (USGS, 2015) and assuming that 90% of the mined P is used for food production, only 45 million tons of the mined quantity finally ends up in form of food on our tables. So, what can we do to increase the resource efficiency of P? Recently, the implementation of a coherent package of nutrient management strategies and measures to close the European P cycle has been proposed – the 5R strategy (Withers et al., 2015). The five R’s are Realign P inputs, Reduce P losses to waters, Recycle P in bio-resources, Recover P from waste and finally Redefine our food system. So, recovery and recycling can play an important role in improving resource efficiency and sustainable nutrient management. Although, there are various relevant waste streams carrying huge quantities of phosphorus dissolved in liquids or fixed in solids like in manure or organic waste, the focus of P-REX was laid upon P recovery and recycling from wastewater and sewage sludge.