Mapping Sydney’s phosphorus supply and demand

Field visit for Sydney P Futures project

Dr Metson inspecting parsely during a recent field trip to a market garden in the Greater Sydney Basin

Cities concentrate people and by doing so they concentrate both the demand for food which needs phosphorus to grow and the generation of phosphorus-rich organic waste. 

Visiting scholar Dr. Geneviève Metson is currently mapping sources and demands for phosphorus in the Greater Sydney Basin as part of a project that aims to bring the waste management, urban planning, and food production sectors together to manage this critical resource.

Phosphorus is an essential fertilizer for agriculture, but global mineral supply is limited, creating a pressing concern for food security. To complicate matters, when phosphorus is lost from agricultural fields or city wastewater, it can pollute water bodies, affecting both drinking water and fish and seafood stocks.

The good news is that phosphorus can be used more efficiently along our food chain, from production to consumption, and it can be recovered from urban food waste, green waste, and wastewater.

Australia currently depends on imported phosphorus to produce food, making it vulnerable to changing global markets. For Sydney to produce more of its own food, and maybe even fertilizers for use in rural areas, we need to know where possible resources are and where they are needed.

By creating spatial maps of possible future scenarios for phosphorus management, which link food production, waste management, urban planning, and healthy environments, this research aims to help the region create more holistic plans for the future and take advantage of win-win situations to meet its goals.

Dr. Geneviève Metson, a recent PhD graduate from McGill University in Canada, is a recipient of the Australian government’s competitive Endeavour Research Fellowship and is a visiting scholar at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney working with Dr Dana Cordell and Prof. Stuart White from January to July 2015.

This project is part of the P-FUTURES project which is collaboratively designing ways to transform how urban areas are managed to ensure food security and clean waterways through better phosphorus management in four cities in Vietnam, Australia, Malawi and U.S.

Source: ISF Newsletter, The WRAP