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Jedelhauser, Michael; Mehr, Jonas and Binder, Claudia R. (2018): Transition of the Swiss Phosphorus System towards a Circular EconomyPart 2: Socio-Technical Scenarios. In: Sustainability, Vol. 10, No. 6, 1980 [PDF, 2MB]


A transition towards a circular economy of phosphorus (P) in Switzerland is a multi-faceted challenge as P use is subject to a variety of influencing factors comprising policy interventions, consumption trends, or technological innovations on different spatial scales. Therefore, scenarios for P use that take into account both the social and the technical dimension of change are needed for investigating possible pathways of a transition towards more sustainable P futures. Drawing on the multi-level perspective of transition theory, we develop scenarios on the landscape level, i.e., a balanced and healthy human diet, on the regime level, i.e., P recovery from sewage sludge (ash) and meat and bone meal, and on the niche level, i.e., urine separation. Based on the P system of the year 2015, we assess the quantitative implications of the scenarios for the Swiss P system. While scenario 1 mainly affects the agricultural system by reducing the overall P throughput, scenario 2 significantly changes P use in waste management, because P losses to landfills and cement plants decrease and the production of secondary P increases. Scenario 3 shows little quantitative impact on the national P system. From a qualitative transition perspective, however, urine separation entails fundamental socio-technical shifts in the wastewater system, whereas P recovery from sewage sludge (ash) represents an incremental system adaptation. The combination of flow- and transition-oriented research provides more general insights into how a circular economy of P can be reached. Furthermore, the analysis of P recycling scenarios reveals that transition processes in Switzerland are embedded in a global resource economy. Thus, a sole focus on concepts of national P self-sufficiency and the reduction of Switzerland's P import dependency tend to fall short when analysing the economisation of secondary P materials in the face of transnational resource flows and markets.

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