Regulating the Societal Phosphorus Flows

Phosphorus (P), intensively extracted from the natural sink in the lithosphere and processed through various production-consumption cycles, ultimately deposits in soil or reaches the water body by different pathways. The societal P flows are characterized by complicated physical interconnections in high intensities among a number of production and consumption sectors. Hence, it is vitally important to connect the P flows with environmental regulations introduced to intervene in social practices and human behaviors.

Instead of continuously trying to limit the growth of P (like the bans of detergent P), there is a great need to reconstruct the physical structure of P flows, in particular by redirecting the crucial P flows with highly negative environmental impacts. The ecological restructuring of the current one-through mode of societal P metabolism is thus desired, leading to a structural shift in the societal production and consumption ofP flows. The ecologically rational switch can contribute to a substantial decline ofP outflows by minimizing P input and maximizing P recycling. Since ecologizing the P flows only succeeds when measures are institutionalized into the economy and society as a whole, this process will most likely be a gradual one rather than a radical revolution.

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