Global phosphorus flows and environmental impacts from a consumption perspective

Yi Liu, Gara Villalba, Robert U. Ayres, Hans Schroder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

226 Citations (Scopus)


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. ©2008 by Yale University.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-247
JournalJournal of Industrial Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2008


  • Biogeochemistry
  • Cropland
  • Industrial ecology
  • Soil erosion
  • Substance flow analysis (SFA)
  • Waste management


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