Global Phosphorus Flows and Environmental Impacts from a Consumption Perspective


Address correspondence to:
Yi Liu
Division of Environmental System Analysis
Department of Environmental Science and Engineering
Tsinghua University
Beijing 100084, P.R. China


Human activities have significantly intensified natural phosphorus cycles, which has resulted in some serious environmental problems that modern societies face today. This article attempts to quantify the global phosphorus flows associated with present day mining, farming, animal feeding, and household consumption. Various physical characteristics of the related phosphorus fluxes as well as their environmental impacts in different economies, including the United States, European countries, and China, are examined. Particular attention is given to the global phosphorus budget in cropland and the movement and transformation of phosphorus in soil, because these phosphorus flows, in association with the farming sector, constitute major fluxes that dominate the anthropogenic phosphorus cycle. The results show that the global input of phosphorus to cropland, in both inorganic and organic forms from various sources, cannot compensate for the removal in harvests and in the losses by erosion and runoff. A net loss of phosphorus from the world's cropland is estimated at about 10.5 million metric tons (MMT) phosphorus each year, nearly one half of the phosphorus extracted yearly.