A transition management framework to stimulate a circular phosphorus system

Heidi M. Peterson, Lawrence A. Baker, Rimjhim M. Aggarwal, Treavor H. Boyer, Neng Iong Chan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As the global population is projected to increase by two billion people by 2050, so will the demand for phosphorus (P), an essential nutrient for all living organisms and a major driver of eutrophication. To sustainably meet these challenges, we apply the conceptual framework of transition management (TM) to demonstrate how the trajectory of the current linear P use system could be strategically shifted toward a more circular P system. We present US case studies to examine P transitions management in intensive agriculture, wastewater disposal, and food waste management. Our goal is twofold. By first understanding past transitions in P management in the USA, we can build upon these insights for future management. This can then be applied to other global regions such as developing countries to bypass stages of transition as they intensify agriculture, incorporate sewers into cities, and expand waste management, to avoid becoming entrenched in unsustainable P management. We suggest how spaces for experimentation and collaboration can be created, how and which actor networks can be mobilized, and what action strategies and policies can be recommended to accelerate their transition to P sustainability. Our case studies show that while substantial improvements have been made, the transition toward a circular economy of P is far from complete. Our findings point to the value of utilizing TM for future progress in the US Development of TM frameworks for managing P in other regions of the world may enable them to achieve sustainable P development faster and more effectively than the USA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEnvironment, Development and Sustainability
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Work was supported by the NSF Research Coordination Network Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability Program (RCN-SEES, award #1230603). We appreciate the collaboration among colleagues involved in the P Research Coordination Network, especially principal investigator, Jim Elser.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.


  • Circular economy
  • Phosphorus
  • Transition management
  • Transition pathways

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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