Maximizing agricultural reuse of recycled nutrients: A spatially explicit assessment of environmental consequences and costs

M. Lessmann*, A. Kanellopoulos, J. Kros, F. Orsi, M. Bakker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Recovering nutrients from organic materials to reduce artificial fertilizer inputs requires the implementation of processing technologies and can involve considerable logistics and transportation costs. Reducing such costs by directly applying organic materials to agricultural land can contribute to pollution due to potential contaminants and unbalanced nutrient ratios. Assessing the cost of increased recycling requires a spatially explicit approach because availability of organic materials, nutrient demand and agro-ecosystem properties vary spatially. A multi-objective model was developed to estimate the trade-offs between costs of nutrient recovery and improvements in nutrient distribution for a case study area in The Netherlands. The evaluated recovery processes included solid-liquid separation followed by reverse osmosis to recover nutrients from pig manure which was compared to a conventional process via hygienisation and export. Results indicate that, even in a nutrient saturated area, replacement potential of artificial nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) fertilizers through locally reclaimed nutrients is limited to about 17% N and 55% P. A cost optimum was found when about 48% of the initial pig manure quantities were processed via nutrient recovery and directed to land. Increasing manure processing for nutrient recovery led to a redistribution of nutrients and trace metals (zinc (Zn) and copper (Cu)), resulting in more localized concentration. Zn and Cu were enriched by about 8% and 2%, respectively, when maximizing nutrient recovery. Our generic model offers a methodology to assess the trade-offs between increased recycling and associated spatial effects to facilitate sustainable recycling infrastructures for achieving more circular agriculture.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117378
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2023


  • Circular economy
  • Contaminants
  • Nutrients
  • Optimization
  • Spatial data


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