The Foundation recently embarked upon a project to map the flow of phosphorus from the shoreline of the Island of Gotland in the Baltic sea to the effluent flowing back into the sea. What surprised us was the fact that Islanders were buying in phosphorus to apply to fields (essential to agriculture) at 20 Swedish kronor a kilo.
To remove phosphorus from sewage costs about 200kr a kilo. And to remove it from seawater costs about 2000Kr a kilo.
The economics are clear: society sets itself up to pay 2000Kr a kilo to clean up that it bought for 20kr a kilo in the first place instead of recycling it back to the fields.
What the Foundation and many others wonder is how come this wasteful handling of resources has been allowed to develop? Maybe the economic system is encouraging this kind of waste as some selected fractions of society profit from it?
Were society to place a high fee on phosphorus import, and raise it until pollution stopped, according to the Höglund Mechanism proposal, the economy of the society would be much better off. It is a basic principle of sustainable living that the main function of the living creature is to harvest that which it needs. When the creature harvests, it comes into balance with nature.
In fact, were the Swedes to take their pledge to a clean Baltic Sea seriously, and not change the waste handling system, import of phosphorus and its clean up alone would involve a good portion of the country´s GDP. Of course this is not the case, as a lot of sewage is cleaned for free by nature, but the cost is still accumulating as build up of phosphorus will eventually leak into waterways and out into the sea.