Human intervention in the global phosphorus cycle has mobilised nearly half a billion tonnes of the element from phosphate rock into the hydrosphere over the past half century. The resultant water pollution concerns have been the main driver for sustainable phosphorus use (including phosphorus recovery). However the emerging global challenge of phosphorus scarcity with serious implications for future food security, means phosphorus will also need to be recovered for productive reuse as a fertilizer in food production to replace increasingly scarce and more expensive phosphate rock. Through an integrated and systems framework, this paper examines the full spectrum of sustainable phosphorus recovery and reuse options (from small-scale low-cost to large-scale high-tech), facilitates integrated decision-making and identifies future opportunities and challenges for achieving global phosphorus security. Case studies are provided rather than focusing on a specific technology or process. There is no single solution to achieving a phosphorus-secure future: in addition to increasing phosphorus use efficiency, phosphorus will need to be recovered and reused from all current waste streams throughout the food production and consumption system (from human and animal excreta to food and crop wastes). There is a need for new sustainable policies, partnerships and strategic frameworks to develop renewable phosphorus fertilizer systems for farmers. Further research is also required to determine the most sustainable means in a given context for recovering phosphorus from waste streams and converting the final products into effective fertilizers, accounting for life cycle costs, resource and energy consumption, availability, farmer accessibility and pollution.
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