The North American Partnership for Phosphorus Sustainability: Creating a Circular P Economy as Part of a Sustainable Food System


To promote and foster the implementation of sustainable P solutions in both the private and public sectors

People standing in the formation of a 'P'What did we do? 

Recently, a team of Phosphorus researchers initiated the North American Partnership for Phosphorus Sustainability (NAPPS) with seed funding from Arizona State University. The goal of North American Partnership for Phosphorus Sustainability (NAPPS) is to actively engage stakeholders (e.g. corporations, national and local policy makers, planners and officials, representatives of agriculture, industry) to promote and foster the implementation of sustainable P solutions in both the private and public sectors. NAPPS seeks to engage partners in identifying key bottlenecks and strategies for decision-making, policy, and implementation of P efficiency and recycling technologies.

What have we learned? 

Phosphorus is necessary for life, and is essential for agricultural production, and so for food security. The growing world population, changing diets of humans to more meat and dairy and growing use of phosphate additives, and biomass production for energy or industrial uses result in an increasing need for phosphorus input, and the world is today heavily dependent on non-renewable, finite phosphate rock reserves that which are concentrated in a small number of countries, posing geopolitical vulnerability. These trends lead to the depletion of phosphate rock resources, pressure on and instability in phosphate prices, decreasing quality and increasing contaminant loads of remaining reserves, and unstable, insecure P supply for regions without local rock resources, especially in the developing world. At the same time, excess P is lost from the food system at multiple points. The result is eutrophication of freshwater and coastal ecosystems – lo ss of the amenity value of lakes and rivers as well as toxic algal blooms and impacts on fisheries.

Phosphorus stewardship is therefore essential, and we must use P more efficiently in the agri-food system, and actively develop phosphorus reuse and recycling technologies and practices. At the same time, the issue of contaminants, both in phosphate rock and in recycled phosphates must be addressed, as well as the need to reduce phosphate inputs to surface waters where these are problematic. We can reduce the use of mined P by producing and applying fertilizer from recycled sources. By using improved practices and smarter crops, we can reduce the demand for P fertilizer and reduce the runoff to surface water bodies. By reducing and re-using food waste and eating food with lower P footprints we can lower our phosphorus consumption and demand. Collectively, these will also lessen the impacts of P runoff on precious water resources.

Future Plans 

NAPPS activities and stakeholder recruitment will be organized around four main sectors: P Recycling; P Efficiency in Food Production; BioEnergy and Food Choice; and Water Quality. Projects and activities will be decided by the Board of Directors, but may include:

1. Develop a common vision for creating a sustainable P cycle in North America

2. Identifying and helping businesses and other organizations respond to opportunities offered by challenges in P management and emerging research in P sustainability

3. Building networks between different interest groups and sectors related to phosphorus management and recycling

4. Evaluating new P efficiency and recycling technologies, including feasibility, availability of suppliers, inventory of existing technologies and companies, cost/benefit analysis, and life cycle analyses

5. Fostering implementation of new technologies by improving the efficiency of business value chains

6. Assessing and facilitating regulatory development pertaining to phosphorus management, including waste, environmental, discharge, and agriculture to improve P sustainability

7. Representing North American phosphorus managers and innovators in international meetings and initiatives

8. Preparing funding RFPs for demonstration projects and integration and dissemination of new technologies and concepts


Helen Ivy Rowe, Assistant Research Professor, School of LIfe Sciences, Arizona State University

James J. Elser, Regents Professor, School of LIfe Sciences, Arizona State University

Additional information        


We thank Arizona State University for providing funds to launch this initiative.


Logo for Sustainable Phosphorus Initiative

The Sustainable Phosphorus Initiative - farm, food, fertilizer

The authors are solely responsible for the content of these proceedings. The technical information does not necessarily reflect the official position of the sponsoring agencies or institutions represented by planning committee members, and inclusion and distribution herein does not constitute an endorsement of views expressed by the same. Printed materials included herein are not refereed publications. Citations should appear as follows. EXAMPLE: Authors. 2015. Title of presentation. Waste to Worth: Spreading Science and Solutions. Seattle, WA. March 31-April 3, 2015. URL of this page. Accessed on: today’s date.