De Economist

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

Towards a Closed Phosphorus Cycle

  • Michiel Keyzer
Open Access


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.


Mineral depletion Sludge recycling Uranium recovery Soil contamination Import dependency 

JEL Code(s)

Q16 Q53 


Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2010

Authors and Affiliations

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

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