Resource Crunch: Why Many Things Cost Much More

By Tom Randall and Eric Roston - 2012-02-06T18:24:40Z

Photograph by Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

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Peak Phosphorus--Running Low Except as Pollution

The Earth recycles its phosphorus. Like life's other chemical elements, phosphorus travels from soil, sea or rock, through the food chain, and back to earth again.

Industrial agriculture, which relies on phosphorus for fertilizer, is disrupting the cycle by adding excessive amounts of mined minerals. This creates two problems. First, the world might have only 30 years of mineable phosphorus left before availability peaks, according to the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative.

Second, phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizers wash from farms into rivers, to the sea, where they form massive "dead zones" of oxygen-starved water. A solution to both issues is as difficult to accomplish as it is unappealing to consider: Recycle our own waste streams when the Earth runs low.

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