Journal article

The Trade-Off between Phosphorus Recycling and Health Protection during the BSE Crisis in Switzerland. A “Disposal Dilemma”

Phosphorus (P) is an essential, finite resource whose geological, economic, and geopolitical accessibility may become critical in the future. Because P losses from agriculture, sewage and waste have serious environmental impacts such as eutrophication, it would be desirable to close P cycles. However, there may arise dilemmas due to trade-offs with other issues. For instance, recycling of animal bones – containing relatively high amounts of P – was prohibited in Switzerland after the BSE crisis (1989 to 2000) due to perceived health risks. Our analysis indicates that the great- est potentials for closing the P cycle in Switzerland are to reduce P losses in agriculture and to increase P recovery from sewage and waste. Whereas in agriculture significant improvements have been made, the disposal dilemma of animal bones led to diminishing amounts of P being recycled from waste. Based on their risk perception, the involved stakeholders prioritized preventing potential harm to (human) health over maximizing P recycling.

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