Nitrogen Footprint in China: Food, Energy, and Nonfood Goods

B.J. Gu, A.M. Leach, L. Ma, J.N. Galloway, S.X. Chang, Y. Ge, J. Chang

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69 Citations (Scopus)


The nitrogen (N) footprint is a novel approach to quantify losses to the environment of reactive N (Nr; all species of N except N-2) derived from human activities. However, current N footprint models are difficult to apply to new countries due to the large data requirement, and sources of Nr included in calculating the N footprint are often incomplete. In this study, we comprehensively quantified the N footprint in China with an N mass balance approach. Results show that the per capita N footprint in China increased 68% between 1980 and 2008, from 19 to 32 kg N yr(-1). The Nr loss from the production and consumption of food was the largest component of the N footprint (70%) while energy and nonfood products made up the remainder in approximately equal portion in 2008. In contrast, in 1980, the food-related N footprint accounted for 86% of the overall N footprint, followed by nonfood products (8%) and energy (6%). The findings and methods of this study are generally comparable to that of the consumer-based analysis of the N-Calculator. This work provides policy makers quantitative information about the sources of China's N footprint and demonstrates the significant challenges in reducing Nr loss to the environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9217-9224
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • ecological footprint
  • livestock production
  • reactive nitrogen
  • recent trends
  • systems
  • tracking
  • cycle

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    Gu, B. J., Leach, A. M., Ma, L., Galloway, J. N., Chang, S. X., Ge, Y., & Chang, J. (2013). Nitrogen Footprint in China: Food, Energy, and Nonfood Goods. Environmental Science and Technology, 47(16), 9217-9224.