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Open AccessArticle

Achieving Sustainable Phosphorus Use in Food Systems through Circularisation

Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YQ, UK
Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, Belfast BT9 5BX, UK
ADAS, Boxworth, Boxworth, Cambridge CB23 4NN, UK
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2018, 10(6), 1804;
Received: 8 April 2018 / Revised: 22 May 2018 / Accepted: 28 May 2018 / Published: 30 May 2018
The notion of a phosphorus (P) circular economy provides the philosophy, framework, and opportunity to enable food production systems to become more efficient, sustainable, and resilient to a future P scarcity or sudden price shock. Whilst P recovery and recycling are central strategies for closing the P cycle, additional gains in environmental performance of food systems can be obtained by further minimising the amounts of P (a) introduced into the food system by lowering system P demand and (b) lost from the system by utilising legacy P stores in the landscape. This minimisation is an important cascading component of circularisation because it reduces the amounts of P circulating in the system, the amounts of P required to be recycled/recovered and the storage of unused P in the landscape, whilst maintaining agricultural output. The potential for circularisation and minimisation depends on regional differences in these P flow dynamics. We consider incremental and transformative management interventions towards P minimisation within circular economies, and how these might be tempered by the need to deliver a range of ecosystem services. These interventions move away from current production philosophies based on risk-averse, insurance-based farming, and current consumption patterns which have little regard for their environmental impact. We argue that a greater focus on P minimisation and circularisation should catalyse different actors and sectors in the food chain to embrace P sustainability and should empower future research needs to provide the confidence for them to do so without sacrificing future regional food security. View Full-Text
Keywords: phosphorus; food system; circular economy; circularisation; minimisation; efficiency; resilience; sustainability phosphorus; food system; circular economy; circularisation; minimisation; efficiency; resilience; sustainability
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Withers, P.J.A.; Doody, D.G.; Sylvester-Bradley, R. Achieving Sustainable Phosphorus Use in Food Systems through Circularisation. Sustainability 2018, 10, 1804.

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