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What is Your Phosphorus Footprint?

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n this paper, the case is made that, of all environmental impacts, the removal and reuse of phosphorus is the most significant consideration for wastewater treatment facilities. Phosphorus is non-renewable, is a vital nutrient for crops and is an important chemical used in many products.

The concepts of global and local phosphorus cycles are introduced and the manner in which anthropogenic activity shifts the mass fluxes in these cycles is discussed. The net increase in the global flux due to human activity is estimated to be somewhere in the range 2–14 Trillion g/yr which may be considered the global phosphorus footprint. It is estimated that wastewater contributes approximately 1.5 Tg/yr to the global phosphorus footprint which is at least 10% of the total based on the largest estimate for the global phosphorus footprint. In contrast, wastewater treatment contributes less than one percent of the global carbon footprint.

Life cycle assessments (LCA) can be used to determine the net flow of material into or out of any system. Thus it can be used to assess the environmental “footprint” of any one of a number of indicators. This technique can be used to assess any number of phosphorus footprints for process options for treatment, reclamation, or biosolids processing. An example is presented to show that the phosphorus footprint of a wastewater treatment plant is reduced as it removes more phosphorus from the effluent and that using phosphorus recovery can reduce the footprint still-further.

Keywords: Phosphorus; carbon footprint; nutrient recovery; phosphorus footprint

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2011

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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