De Economist

, Volume 158, Issue 4, pp 411–425 | Cite as

Towards a Closed Phosphorus Cycle

Open Access
Article

Summary

This paper stresses the need to address upcoming scarcity of phosphorus, a mineral nutrient that is essential for all life on Earth. Agricultural crops obtain phosphorus from the pool in the soil that can be replenished by recycling of organic material, or by application of inorganic fertilizer, originating from mines, largely concentrated in three countries only: Morocco/Western Sahara, China and USA. A complicating factor is that the phosphorus rock contains other substances as well, including the heavy metals cadmium and uranium. These substances currently end up in fertilizer and in phosphogypsum where they may pose threats to human and animal health. Hence scarcity and environmental considerations call for action to close the phosphorus cycle. The paper compares two options for intervention: mandatory recycling versus a ban on imports of contaminated phosphorus, and argues in favor of the second.

Keywords

Mineral depletion Sludge recycling Uranium recovery Soil contamination Import dependency 

JEL Code(s)

Q16 Q53 

References

  1. Asimov I. (1974) Asimov on Chemistry. Doubleday, Garden CityGoogle Scholar
  2. Binswanger, H.P., K. Deininger and G. Feder (1995), ‘Power, Revolt and Reform in Agricultural Land Relations’, Ch. 42 in: Handbook of Development Economics, Vol. IIIB, J. Behrman and T.N. Srinivasan (eds), Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  3. Bryson C. (2004) ‘Public Deception on Fluoride’. Fluoride 37(2): 55–59Google Scholar
  4. CDC (2009), Clean Hands Save Lives. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/cleanhands/.
  5. Clark G. (1991) ‘Yields Per Acre in English Agriculture, 1250–1860. Evidence from Labour Inputs’. Economic Historical Review 14: 445–460CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cordell D., Drangert J-O., White S. (2009) ‘The Story of Phosphorus: Global Food Security and Food for Thought’. Global Environmental Change 19: 293–305CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. EPA (2006) Radiation in Phosphogypsum. EPA 402-F-06-015, http://nepis.epa.gov/Adobe/PDF/P1006A95.PDF
  8. FAO (2009), How to Feed the World in 2050. Rome: FAO.Google Scholar
  9. Fourati A., Faludi Gy. (1988) ‘Changes in Radioactivity of Phophate Rocks During the Process of Production’. Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry, Articles 125(2): 287–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gilbert N. (2009) ‘The Disappearing Nutrient’. Nature 468: 716–718CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Guida J. (2008) ‘Phosphoric Acid and Uranium Recovery—Take 3’. Fertilizer International 422: 54–57Google Scholar
  12. Herring J.R., Fantel R.J. (1993) ‘Phosphate Rock Demand into the Next Century: Impact on World Food Supply’. Natural Resources Research 2: 226–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hetzel B.S. (1983) ‘Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDD) and Their Eradication’. The Lancet 322(8359): 1126–1128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hilton, J., A.E. Johnston and C.J. Dawson (2010), The Phosphate Life-Cycle. Rethinking the Options for a Finite Resource. Proceedings International Fertiliser Society 668.Google Scholar
  15. India, Department of Agriculture (2010), http://www.dacnet.nic.in/.
  16. Jasinski, S. (2009), Phosphate Rock. Mineral Commodity Summaries 2008(2), US Geological Survey.Google Scholar
  17. Johnston, A.E. (2008), Resource or Waste: The Reality of Nutrient Recycling to Land. Proceedings International Fertiliser Society 630.Google Scholar
  18. Keyzer M.A., Merbis M.D., Voortman R.L. (2008) ‘The Biofuel Controversy’. De Economist 156(4): 507–527CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kuznets S. (1965) Economic Growth and Structure. Heinemann, LondonGoogle Scholar
  20. Martin J.E., Garcia-Tenorio R., Respaldiza M.A., Ontalba M.A., Bolivar J.P., da Silva M.F. (1999) ‘TTPIXE Analysis of Phosphate Rocks and Phosphogypsum’. Applied Radiation and Isotopes 50: 445–449CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Price, R. and J.R. Blaise (2002), ‘Nuclear Fuel Resources: Enough to Last?’ NEA Updates, NEA News 2002—No. 20.2.Google Scholar
  22. Ruttenberg K.C. (2003) ‘The Global Phosphorus Cycle’. Treatise in Geochemistry 9: 585–643Google Scholar
  23. Sludge News (2010), About Sewage Sludge. http://sludgenews.org/about/sludgenews.aspx?id=2.
  24. Smil V. (2000) ‘Phosphorus in the Environment: Natural Flows and Human Interferences’. Annual Review of Energy and the Environment 25: 53–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Smit, A.L., P.S. Bindraban, J.J. Schröder, J.G. Conijn, and H.G. van der Meer (2009), Phosphorus in Agriculture: Global Resources, Trends and Developments. Wageningen: Plant Research International, Report 282.Google Scholar
  26. Stanhill G. (1976) ‘Trends and Deviations in the Yield of the English Wheat Crop During the Last 750 Years’. Agro-Ecosystems 3: 1–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. UN Comtrade (2010), United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database. http://comtrade.un.org/db/, accessed July 8, 2010.
  28. USDA/ERS (2010), Yearbook Data for Wheat, http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/Wheat/.
  29. Voortman, R.L. (2010), Explorations into African Land Resource Ecology: On the Chemistry Between Soils, Plants and Fertilizers. Enschede: Gildeprint Drukkerijen.Google Scholar
  30. Young A. (1999) ‘Is there Really Spare Land? A Critique of Estimates of Available Cultivable Land in Developing Countries’. Environment, Development and Sustainability 1: 3–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for World Food Studies (SOW-VU)VU University AmsterdamAmsterdamNetherlands

Personalised recommendations