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The Temporal Evolution of Anthropogenic Phosphorus Consumption in China and Its Environmental Implications



Modern human activities greatly disturb substance flows in nature and senselessly discard massive amounts of precious resources to natural waste reservoirs; phosphorus (P) is a good example of this. In this article, substance flow analysis is employed to quantify and explore the temporal evolution of China's P consumption in main metabolic nodes from 1984 to 2008, and then the environmental implications for P flows into both surface waters and natural soil are investigated. Results show that the metabolic nodes of human life and animal husbandry have demanded increasingly more P inputs, while disseminating more and more P wastes, with the waste recycling ratios of these processes dropping, respectively, from 65.9% and 66.1% in 1984 to 50.7% and 40.6% by 2008. These change traits were closely related to national polices including the Household Contract Responsibility System and the Shopping Basket Program, as well as the policy vacuum existing between China's agricultural and environmental administration departments. To achieve high crop yield, increasingly more inorganic P fertilizers have been utilized in China, but their use efficiency has decreased by 46.3%. From 2003 to 2008, the total P load into surface waters was stabilized at about 900.0 kilotons (kt), while the total P load into natural soil increased by more than 3.8 times to 3,131.3 kt P in 2008. City life and the intensive breeding of crops are identified as the main targets for further pollution control and nutrient recycling in China. Some suggestions for achieving environmentally sound practices and resource sustainability in China are proposed at the end of this article.