Phosphorus recovered from human excreta: A socio-ecological-technical approach to phosphorus recycling

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17 Citations (Scopus)


This article provides a comprehensive and cross-disciplinary overview of the phosphorus cycle through the wastewater and agri-food system. While mineral phosphorus stocks are finite, the use of mined phosphorus is accompanied with many losses, leading to pollution of water bodies. Recovering phosphorus from human excreta can contribute to more efficient use of phosphorus to ensure its availability for food production in the future. Phosphorous can be recovered through different recovery technologies and consequently used in agriculture via different recycling routes. Each recycling route has its own particularities in terms of interactions with technologies, actors and the environment to bring the recovered phosphorus back into agriculture. In this literature review, we adopt a socio-ecological-technical approach to map three phosphorus-recycling routes, via municipal sewage sludge, struvite recovered from municipal wastewater and source-separated urine. We firstly show that improvements are still needed in all three routes for achieving high P recovery efficiency, and a combination of these recycling routes are needed to achieve maximum recovery of phosphorus. Second, we identify key issues for each recycling route that currently limit the use of recovered phosphorus in agriculture. We indicate where interaction between disciplines is needed to improve recycling routes and identify gaps in research on how recovered phosphorus accesses agriculture.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104744
Number of pages11
JournalResources, Conservation and Recycling
Early online date14 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • Phosphorus recycling
  • Sewage sludge
  • Source-separated urine
  • Struvite
  • Circular economy
  • Socio-ecological-technical approach


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