Flex fees feature in food security webinar

A recent webinar hosted by the Humanitarian Water and Food Award (WAF) addressed the importance of phosphorus for food security from a soil to soil perspective.

Award applications manager Stephen Hinton described WAF’s perspective: given that supplies of mineral phosphorus are depleting, and food prices are rising, for there to be world food security society needs to create a soil to soil circular economy for phosphorus.

Two things about phosphorus (P) make it a priority. Firstly, it is a limiting factor. The more P that is removed the lower the threat of algal blooming. Secondly, it is scarce. Today we rely on mining which in turn relies on cheap energy.  A true sustainable, circular, economy uses a soil to soil perspective for P, eliminating the need for mining. As the concentration of P in living things is several magnitudes larger than in the environment our very survival rests on this circular economy functioning properly.

WAF believes that food security (and thereby awareness of the importance of phosphorus) should be at the centre of every company’s CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) program, regardless of whether they produce food products. Says Stephen Hinton: “the reason employees go to work is to get paid so they can put food on the table for their families. So all businesses are in the business of providing food security for their employees, suppliers, retail outlets and so on.”

Stephen connects food security with entrepreneurship; “if you are hungry you cannot be at the top of your game and creative. Well-fed people can contribute to society and contribute to prosperity. Prosperity creates more business opportunities. Everyone wins.”


One way to kick-start the circular phosphorus economy is being explored by a technology firm spawned off from KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology. Bengt Simonsson from Teknikmarknad described their  Density Sorting Dredging. This technologyworks like a giant vacuum cleaner, gently extracting different fractions from the seabed. This technique is safe as it doesn’t stir up sediment to release nutrients.  Cheaper, cleaner sources of P are promised and the organic sediment layers can be digested to produce biogas as well as components for fertilizer. There is a good business case removing sediment rich in P just to restore aquatic environments. Decades of emissions to the Baltic Sea have brought it to the point where internal leakage is now many times larger than the current inflow causing eutrophication and expanding anoxic sea-beds.

Teknikmarknad is looking into ways to finance P recovery using a municipal drain connection surcharge approach. Raising fees will generate money to invest in sediment removal. At the same time, the recovery will itself generate an income for the municipality that it can use to reduce costs elsewhere, or to simply lower other rates so the effect on the overall economy will be neutral.

Teknikmarknad’s approach is based on the mechanisms developed by the Swedish Sustainable Economy Foundation. The Foundation’s economic expert, Anders Höglund presented the approach he developed based on control engineering. Called flexible pollutant fees, or flex fees, the idea is to put surcharges on behaviour that is associated with externalizing pollution costs (like emitting phosphorus to waterways) and to redistribute the money collected to citizens so they can spend it back into the economy. (Lowering municipal taxes is a form of redistribution.) Increasing surcharges at regular intervals will encourage the market to invest in alternate ways to deal with the pollutant. As it gets increasingly relatively expensive to emit to municipal drains, the market will invest in P recovery technology, which in turn will generate cheaper sources of P for farmers to use. The technology exists to circulate P. The scientific arguments are sound. A relatively minor fee can set the change in motion, putting P back on the land and making sure it stays there. Forever.

To register to see the recorded version, and to download the powerpoints visit this link http://csrwebinars.avbp.net/?p=109

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