Phosphorus flows and balances of the European Union Member States

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Global society faces serious “phosphorus challenges” given the scarcity, essentiality, unequal global distribution and, at the same time, regional excess of phosphorus (P). Phosphorus flow studies can be used to analyze these challenges, providing insight into how society (re)uses and loses phosphorus, identifying potential solutions. Phosphorus flows were analyzed in detail for EU-27 and its Member States. To quantify food system and non-food flows, country specific data and historical context were considered. The sectors covered were crop production (CP), animal production (AP), food processing (FP), non-food production (NF) and consumption (HC). The results show that the EU-27 imported 2392 Gg P in 2005, half of which accumulated in agricultural soils (924 Gg) and half was lost as waste (1217 Gg). Net accumulation was 4.9 kg P/ha/year ranging between + 23.2 (Belgium) and - 2.8 (Slovakia). From the system losses, 54% was lost from HC in diverse waste flows and 28% from FP, mainly through incinerated slaughter residues. The largest HC losses (655 Gg) were wastewater (55%), food waste (27%), and pet excreta (11%). Phosphorus recycling rates were 73% in AP, 29% in FP, 21% in HC and ~ 0% in NF. The phosphorus use efficiencies showed that, relative to sector input, about 70% was taken up by crops (CP), 24% was retained in animals (AP), 52% was contained in food products (FP), 76% was stored in non-food materials (NF), and 21% was recycled (HC). Although wide-ranging variation between countries, generally phosphorus use in EU-27 was characterized by relatively (1) large dependency on (primary) imports, (2) long-term accumulation in agricultural soils, especially in west European countries, (3) leaky losses throughout entire society, especially emissions to the environment and sequestered waste, (4) little recycling with the exception of manure, and (5) low use efficiencies, because of aforementioned issues, providing ample opportunities for improvement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1078-1093
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue numberPart B
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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