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Mehr, Jonas; Jedelhauser, Michael and Binder, Claudia R. (2018): Transition of the Swiss Phosphorus System towards a Circular Economy-Part 1: Current State and Historical Developments. In: Sustainability, Vol. 10, No. 5, 1479 [PDF, 1MB]


Current phosphorus (P) use in European countries is highly dependent on mineral P imports and not sustainably managed. In order to identify and implement measures for sustainable P management, a comprehensive understanding of national P flows and stocks and their temporal dynamics is essential. We conduct a substance flow analysis (SFA) of the Swiss P system of the year 2015, and study the dynamics of the national P system by looking into its development since 1989. Furthermore, we investigate how political-legislative interventions affected the P system during this period. The results show that between 1989 and 2015, the P efficiency in Swiss agriculture increased from 59% to 94%, mainly due to a considerable reduction of fertilization in the agricultural subsystem. At the same time, Switzerland's P import dependency decreased from 33% to 24% between 1989 and 2002 because of a reduction of mineral fertilizer import and use. Between 2002 and 2015, the import dependency stagnated because further improvements in P use efficiency in agriculture were outweighed by a decrease of P recycling and an increase of P losses in the waste management system. By embedding these temporal dynamics in their political-legislative context, we found that top-down interventions such as incentives for a balanced nutrient budget in agriculture, restrictions of the use of animal by-products in the agri-food system or the ban of direct sewage sludge recycling in agriculture significantly affected and shaped the national P system. Our analysis provides profound quantitative and qualitative insights into past and present P management in Switzerland and is followed by part 2 of the paper, where we analyze possible future pathways of P management.

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