Nutrient Recovery and Reuse


As concern grows over the looming nexus of climate change, population growth and resource depletion, the agricultural sector has inevitably come under the spotlight. Whilst advances in technology over the last century have enabled a rapid increase in agricultural productivity in line with expanding demands, it is becoming clear that this growth can no longer be sustained in its current form. The impacts on the environment have been huge, causing wide scale water and air pollution, loss of biodiversity and soil erosion. 

Inappropriate management of nutrients is a critical part of this story. It is now recognised that the growing leakage of nutrients from agriculture into the environment is affecting Europe’s environmental security and clear steps must be taken for improved nutrient stewardship. Nutrient recovery and reuse from waste streams, such as animal manure, human sewage sludge, and food chain waste, can offer an important contribution to improve the efficiency of nutrient management and support Europe in its transformation to a more circular economy.

The report

The report makes a thorough revision of the use of nitrogen and phosphorus in European agriculture and assesses the scope for increased nutrient recovery and reuse and the actions needed to make it possible.

Exponential growth in the flow of nutrients is causing serious environmental and public health impacts, posing the greatest threat to European food and environmental security. The study identifies three main levers to contain the growing damage: dietary change goals, improved crop and animal nutrient use efficiency and a reduction of waste. The study acknowledges that while Nutrient Recovery and Reuse is not the whole answer to the disruptive effects of inflated nutrient flows, it offers an important contribution to improve the efficiency of nutrient management. In addition, it would represent an intelligent diversification of sources of nutrient supply for the EU.

Two main questions were at the core of the report:

  • Is there scope and are there workable processes to recover and reuse nitrogen and phosphorus in the European food system? In what quantities and from which substrates can this be done?

  • What is impeding the rapid development of NRR, and what actions could be taken to propel it?

According to the RISE report, there is substantial scope to recover and reuse nitrogen and phosphorus from the European food chain, but there is no single new source of nutrients nor single new process which is going to revolutionise NRR and drive it to the next level. The report focuses on three groups of substrates considered to be the most promising with current technology and incentives: animal manures, sewage waste and food industry waste, especially slaughterhouse waste.

However, NRR activity is not expected to spontaneously significantly increase in scale. Several ways of providing stimulus are discussed along with ways of giving advantage to recovered nutrients by penalising alternatives.

Watch the 6-minute interview to Allan Buckwell explaining the outcomes of the report at the FFA 2016 conference:

To download a copy of the full report visit the Publications section.


Three events took place during the course of the project; two consultation workshops and the launch event of the report.

Launch event

On March 21st, the RISE Foundation launched its latest report at an event held in Brussels with over 100 participants and chaired by Corrado Pirzio-Biroli, CEO of the RISE Foundation. Among the audience were members of the European Commission, academics, company representatives, NGOs and members of nutrient platforms.

Consultation workshops

As part of the consultation process of the RISE study, the Foundation held two consultative workshops – at the EXPO Milan and at the European Parliament (EP). You can find below a summary of the discussions held during the two workshops.

Consultation process

To ensure that the Foundation’s reports remain impartial and that the research team have as much access to information coming from a wide range of stakeholders, it has developed two mechanisms:

The stakeholder consultation workshop: Mid way through the development of each report, the RISE Foundation holds a stakeholder workshop to which it invites farmers, NGOs, industry, policy makers and academics to discuss and debate and respond to its work.

The Advisory Committee: the RISE Foundation has appointed a specialist Advisory Committee to guide the development of its thinking on livestock and ensure that its work remains impartial and balanced. Members of the Advisory Committee were as follows:

  • Professor Mark A. SUTTON, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
  • Chris THORNTON, European Sustainable Phosphorus Platform
  • Dr Luca MONTANARELLA, European Commission – DG Joint Research Centre


This project received financial support from Fertilisers Europe, Acqua e Sole and The Carlsen Lange Foundation.