Peak phosphorous update

There’s a lot we take for granted when it comes to our food. Most of us wouldn’t know something called phosphate plays such a huge role in food production. It’s also this rapidly depleting resource we’ve wasted so much of that has ruined waterways through our excesses.

In an article from 2007, I mentioned the prospect of “peak phosphorous”, akin to peak oil, where worldwide production of phosphate will peak and then taper off (which had already occurred in the USA). We’re running out and without easily secured supplies, there are will be big impacts on agriculture.

Since 2007, the situation certainly hasn’t improved. An indicator is price; which has risen in the key Gulf of Mexico origin for phosphorus fertilizer from $US280/t before Christmas to $US470/t just recently.

We’ve overused phosphorous – so much of it has wound up in our waterways and in the ocean from agricultural runoff and also in our own waste in the form of sewage. It’s this phosphate rich runoff that also helps to feed algae, creating dead zones in the ocean and choking our rivers with toxic blue-green algae blooms.

So, all this is disturbing, interesting, whatever – but what does that mean for the average person – how could they possibly make any impact whatsoever regarding phosphate?

Reducing food waste is a small step – the less food needing to be produced only to be wasted, the less phosphate is needed. For the food we do waste, make sure it doesn’t go to landfill; compost it, and what better use for that compost than starting your own heritage seed based vegetable garden (or give it to someone who has a veggie garden)

It also means our pee is now precious. 98% of the nitrogen, 68% of the phosphorus and 85% of the potassium in urine can be reclaimed and all of these are important in agriculture.

For the gardeners among us, and the more adventurous ones at that – there’s always the option of taking your pee outside to use in your yard instead of buying fertilizers based on the stuff. Tomatoes are said to thrive with a bit of added urine. 

Bit icky? That brings me to the next point. I think the more important issue for all of us is to have more of an open mind about recyclingy human waste. You may be asked your opinion on urine phosphate reclamation and recycling at some point and I think it’s important we voice support for ideas such as urine separating toilets so solutions can be implemented sooner rather than later; when it may be too late.

By supporting urine phosphate reclamation, we’ll not only be helping to secure food supplies for the future, but also lessening the amount of phosphate winding up where it shouldn’t be in our environment.