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Sustainability News

February 25, 2019

river flowing through green fieldsGreener fields and bluer waters are in the cards thanks to a new project in development by the Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance at Arizona State University. Slated to launch in April, the Phosphorus Sustainability Challenge will encourage organizations to publicly commit to reducing their phosphorus footprint.

Phosphorus isn’t the first thing people think of when discussing sustainability, but it’s essential for global food security. Phosphorus is a key ingredient in crop fertilizers, as it is essential for plant growth and yield, and it’s also added to animal feed to grow their bodies and especially their bones.

However, when agricultural runoff travels into rivers, lakes and oceans, it carries with it phosphorus that may cause toxic algal growth, contaminated water supplies and oxygen-scarce “dead zones” where most organisms can’t survive. Other significant sources of phosphorus water pollution can include: discharges of storm water and municipal, industrial, and septic wastewater; and soil erosion that delivers phosphorus to nearby waters.

“Phosphorus is vital to agriculture, but it’s also the most devastating pollutant of freshwater, which is our most important natural resource and commodity. This isn’t adequately appreciated by the sustainability community, let alone the general public,” said Matt Scholz, program manager of the Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance. “The Phosphorus Sustainability Challenge aims to raise the profile of this issue.”

The Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance’s director, ASU research professor Jim Elser, added: “Not only is phosphorus of concern as a pollutant, we are also concerned because there is only a finite supply of it and it’s mined in only a few countries.”

In short, phosphorus is a big deal.

Goals of the challenge include using phosphorus more efficiently in crops and animal feed, diverting or removing phosphorus from our waters, and recovering and recycling phosphorus-containing wastes — including food wastes — back into the food system. This will be a multi-industry project, and everyone from governments to public and private companies of any size is encouraged to participate.

Through the challenge, organizations can commit to addressing at least one key phosphorus sustainability issue defined by the Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance. Once commitments are reviewed, participants will receive public recognition for their leadership and will be able to see how their efforts contribute to greater goals.

“Ostara is excited to support the Phosphorus Sustainability Challenge,” said Matt Kuzma, vice president of nutrient recovery solutions at Ostara, Vancouver-based company that recovers nutrients from water treatment streams and turns them into a premium fertilizer product. “In a world of finite supply and pollution created from improper management of this key resource, this challenge will help organizations document the positive impacts they are having through better sourcing of phosphorus, more efficient utilization, and avoidance of pollution by mismanaged phosphorus. Good stewardship deserves recognition, and this is a path towards achieving that.”

The Phosphorus Sustainability Challenge will kick off at the Phosphorus Forum on April 5, 2019. Two ASU faculty will be the forum’s keynote speakers: senior sustainability scientist Kathleen Merrigan, who is the executive director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems, and distinguished sustainability scientist Bruce Rittmann, who is the director of the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology.