Nutrient Recovery and Reuse
In March 2016, the RISE Foundation launched a study on Nutrient Recovery and Reuse (NRR) in European agriculture. A review of the issues, opportunities, and actions. The report was launched at the Maison Grand Place, in Brussels, during a side event of the Forum for the Future of Agriculture (FFA).
The Foundation's Chairman, and former European Commissioner for Science and Research and the Environment, Janez Potocnik said that "In the coming years we will have to change the current resource intensive economic model to address global and European food and environmental security. The growing leakage of nutrients into the environment is an unwanted consequence of our current system that deserves immediate attention."
The report makes a thorough revision of the use of nitrogen and phosphorus in European agriculture and assesses the scope for increased nutrient recovery and reuse and the actions needed to make it possible.
Exponential growth in the flow of nutrients is causing serious environmental and public health impacts, posing the greatest threat to European food and environmental security. The study identifies three main levers to contain the growing damage: dietary change goals, improved crop and animal nutrient use efficiency and a reduction of waste. The study acknowledges that while Nutrient Recovery and Reuse is not the whole answer to the disruptive effects of inflated nutrient flows, it offers an important contribution to improve the efficiency of nutrient management. In addition, it would represent an intelligent diversification of sources of nutrient supply for the EU.
Two main questions are at the core of the report:
- Is there scope and are there workable processes to recover and reuse nitrogen and phosphorus in the European food system? In what quantities and from which substrates can this be done?
- What is impeding the rapid development of NRR, and what actions could be taken to propel it?
According to the RISE report, there is substantial scope to recover and reuse nitrogen and phosphorus from the European food chain, but there is no single new source of nutrients nor single new process which is going to revolutionise NRR and drive it to the next level. The report focuses on three groups of substrates considered to be the most promising with current technology and incentives: animal manures, sewage waste and food industry waste, especially slaughterhouse waste.
However, NRR activity is not expected to spontaneously significantly increase in scale. Several ways of providing stimulus are discussed along with ways of giving advantage to recovered nutrients by penalising alternatives.
Watch the 6-minute interview to Allan Buckwell explaining the outcomes of the report at the FFA 2016 conference:
As part of the consultation process of the RISE study, the Foundation held two consultative workshops - at the EXPO Milan and at the European Parliament (EP). You can find the summary of the discussions held during the two workshops in the Publications section.
To download a copy of the full report free of charge, visit the Publications section.
- Nitrogen: key articles and reports
- Closing the loop - An EU Action plan for the Circular Economy (2015) - European Commission
- Nitrogen: too much of a vital resource (2015) – WWF
- The nitrogen footprint of food products in the European Union (2014) - A. Leip, F. Weiss, J.P. Lesschen, H. Westhoek
- Our Nutrient World (2013) - Global Partnership on Nutrient Management
- The European Nitrogen Assessment (2011) – European Science Foundation, Task Force on Reactive Nitrogen and the International Nitrogen Initiative
- Phosphorus: key articles and reports
- Phosphorus flows and balances of the European Union Member States (2016) – K. van Dijk, J.P. Lesschen and O. Oenema
- The story of phosphorus: global food security and food for thought (2009) - D. Cordell, J.O. Drangert and S. White