What does Norway do to recycle phosphorous?
Christian Democratic Party asks Norwegian Minister for Agriculture about Norway's work to recycle phosphates.
Published 13 August 2012

Unofficial translation to English by the Norwegian Support COmmittee for Western Sahara.

Find original question and answer (in Norwegian) here.

Written question from Line Henriette Hjemdal (Christian Democratic Party) to the Minister of Agriculture and Food.
Document no. 15:1464 (2010-2011)
Submitted: 23.05.2011
Sent: 24.05.2011
Answered: 07.06.2011 by Minister of Agriculture and Food, Lars Peder Brekk

Liv Henriette Hjemdal (Christian Democratic Party): What will the Minister of Agriculture and Food do to make sure that more phosphorus is reclaimed and brought back to productive fields?

On March 14, 2011, researchers on the television program “Schrödingers katt” expressed that the decreasing phosphorus supplies could lead to a global famine in 20 years. Petter Jensen, professor at the institute of plant- and environmental science at UMB, has for a long time warned that the world’s phosphorus resources are being drained. This gloomy scenario entails that we will not be able to feed more than 3 billion people by the year 2100, Jensen said during the program. Phosphorus is one of the fundamental building blocks in all life, and plays an important part in the function of cells. This element can be found in cell membranes and is essential in cell transport. It is also an additive in artificial fertilizer. Without enough phosphorus on the field, crops stop growing, and the production of food declines. All agriculture requires the use of phosphorus. At harvest, the phosphorus used by the crops are lost. Phosphorus comes from rock phosphate, and through its occupation of Western Sahara, Morocco controls half of the world’s known phosphorus resources. The rest is mainly controlled by the USA and China, and the USA’s rock phosphate will be depleted in 20-30 years. Phosphorus can however be reclaimed after it has been used, but this has to be done before it seeps into rivers and ocean. One measure is to recycle food scraps, another is to reclaim phosphorus from urine and feces. Most of the phosphorus we ingest is voided out in urine. Sweden has resolved that 60% of the phosphorus in sewage will return to productive fields within 2015.

Lars Peder Brekk: The representative bases the question on the assertion that the world will end up in a famine in 20 years because of a diminishing supply of phosphorus. According to analyses performed by the IFDC (International Center for Soil Fertility and Agriculture) and USGS (United States Geological Survey), today’s known rock phosphate reserves will last 300 to 400 years given a slightly increasing consumption. A famine in the near future caused by lack of phosphorus is therefore unlikely. However, there are many good reasons to recycle phosphorus. The government has ambitions of making Norway a more sustainable society where also nutrients to the largest extent possible is recycled. Better recycling will also make Norway less dependent on import of phosphorus and thereby less affected by fluctuations in the phosphorus market. To achieve this, manure from livestock, raw sewage, and food scraps, must be handled in such a way that as much of the phosphorus as possible is reused. For agriculture, this means putting manure to good use, and to receive sludge, compost, and certain byproducts from biogas plants. Today, agriculture receives approximately 60 percent of the waste water sludge in Norway. The share is higher in the grain growing areas (east and central parts of Norway) than in the rest of the country, because the grassy areas to a lesser degree needs replenishing of organic materials. In some areas of the country, there is also a high density of animals, and therefore an adequate supply of nutrients in the form of manure. It is the responsibility of the sewage treatment field to develop new fertilizer products with a larger area of utilization. This is useful in order to reuse an even larger share. The Department of Agriculture and Food is currently revising regulations involving the use of organic fertilizer products. The regulations shall facilitate increased use of organic fertilizer products. However, a premise for the recycling of nutrients is that the fertilizer products do no cause any risk when it comes to food safety, animal- and plant health, or the environment.

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