Sydney’s urban expansion in a basin geographically constrained by mountains and the sea, is expected to increase the population of 4.2 million by 1.5 million new residents in the next few decades, placing pressure on existing supplies of agricultural land, housing, water and energy. While Sydney has some fertile land, Australia in general has naturally phosphorus-deficient soils and is the world’s 5th largest importer of phosphate, to support a largely export-oriented agricultural system.

P-FUTURES aims to engage key Sydney stakeholders to collaboratively identify how improving phosphorus security for Sydney can contribute to improved farmer terms of trade, a sustainable Sydney food system while reducing phosphorus-induced water pollution in the Hawkesbury Nepean catchment.

Local research partner:
Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney

Key contacts:
Dr Dana Cordell &
Dr Geneviève Metson


Transformation spotlight: planning for peri-urban food production creates opportunities for local renewable fertilisers
4-Sydney-example-boxCurrent urban planning documents for Sydney have yet to put an emphasis on preservation or strategic management of agricultural land in the Sydney Basin, creating risks for Sydney’s food system (Read more).

To respond to such threats,  the Mapping Sydney’s Potential Foodsheds project being undertaken by the Institute for Sustainable Futures to identify the future feasibility and desirability of local food production to meet local needs in Sydney. The spatial maps of current and future food production and demand will also create an evidence base to support local and State government decision-making to stimulate and support agricultural productivity in the Sydney Basin (e.g. through zoning).

Urban and peri-urban agriculture also creates an opportunity for recycling nutrients like phosphorus in urban wastes locally instead of relying on imports. This can enable: new market opportunities for renewable fertilizers, transforming waste managers into resource entrepreneurs; increase farmer fertilizer security and prevent urban nutrients being lost through deep ocean outfalls of Sydney’s coastal wastewater treatment plants or buried in landfill.

Mapping Sydney's Phosphorus Supply & Demand

Dr Metson inspecting parsley during a recent field trip to a market garden in the Greater Sydney Basin

A geospatial analysis of Sydney’s sources of and demand for phosphorus found that the city currently produces 15 times as much phosphorus in waste than is needed by agriculture in the basin. The largest amount of available phosphorus for reuse is found in treated wastewater and biosolids, followed by food and green waste, and finally manure.

The Sydney P-FUTURES team mapped sources and demands for phosphorus in the Greater Sydney Basin as part of a related project that aims to bring the waste management, urban planning, and food production sectors together to manage this critical resource.

For Sydney to produce more of its own food, and potentially generate renewable fertilisers for use in neighbouring rural areas, the location, quantity and distribution of possible resources needed.

By creating spatial maps of possible future scenarios for phosphorus management, which link food production, waste management, urban planning, and healthy environments, this research aims to help the region create more holistic plans for the future and take advantage of win-win situations to meet its goals.

* Spatial maps – coming soon! *

The phosphorus mapping analysis was led by Dr. Geneviève Metson, a recipient of the Australian government’s competitive Endeavour Research Fellowship and a visiting scholar at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney working with Dr Dana Cordell and Prof. Stuart White from January to July 2015.


Fifteen local Sydney stakeholders were brought together on 5th March, 2015 for the Sydney P-FUTURES Phase 1 workshop, held at the University of Technology Sydney to collectively explore where we are now, where we want to be and how we might get there. Participants were diverse, ranging from Department of Environment & Heritage to local farmers to social enterprises (see PARTNERS). 15 local stakeholders, 4 local research partners and 2 international research partners participated.

Workshop objectives were to:

  • Explore risks and vulnerabilities for Sydney to the global phosphorus challenge (such as fertilizer price spikes, algal blooms, growing food demand, wastewater infrastructure, etc.)
  • Explore opportunities for Sydney to effectively adapt to such challenges, taking into account Sydney’s future visions and existing plans.
  • Contribute to shaping the future research agenda for P-FUTURES in all four cities to develop tools to transform the way cities manage phosphorus


Exploring the current situation: Following introductory presentations on the emerging global phosphorus scarcity and pollution challenge, local participants highlighted their current sector priorities, pressures and drivers, to create a shared knowledge base. Small groups subsequently mapped out how their sectors inter-related to eachother, to phosphorus and how Sydney was specifically vulnerable to the global phosphorus challenge.

Developing future transformative goals: After sustainable phosphorus vignettes from around the world, including other P-FUTURES cities, participants were asked “if there’s one big sustainable phosphorus initiative you would like to see in Sydney, what would it be?”. Small groups developed shared goals, and were asked to ‘spruce up’ their goals to ensure they were bold, sustainable and transformative. Finally, groups were asked to develop slogans that best represented their goals (for a prize of local tea from Malawi).

Identifying transition pathways: Groups were asked to consider the current capacity of actors to adapt or transform and to identify what was enabling or constraining their ambitious goals from being achieved. Groups formulated these as actions on a pathway.


Outcomes & key highlights

Current situation: local stakeholder priorities:

  • Managing growth of Sydney by 1.6 million people over the next 20 years.
  • Ensuring viability in the mid-long-term of intensive horticultural producers; labour supply & competitiveness, pest management, water availability and soil quality.
  • Collaborative approach between state and local government in policy development and resourcing processes on the ground.
  • Driving/increasing the diversion of organic materials from landfill; converting food waste into compost to grow food and reduce transport needs.
  • Safe and effective wastewater management and recycling; e.g. managing high P losses in coastal wastewater (no regulation for N&P) and managing increasing future N&P discharges in inland wastewater in massive growth areas.
  • Sustainable agriculture – provide land and natural resources for agricultural protection; increasing P efficiency in agriculture and decreasing losses.
  • Viable livelihoods for Australian farming families.

Future transformative goals: In small groups, participants developed a range of goals, many of which related to reusing recovered phosphorus locally:

  • Reduce the gap between demand and supply of phosphorus within Sydney (with sustainable imports and exports when necessary); Using biosolids within the Sydney Basin.
  • Waste is treated as a productive resource within Sydney’s circular economy, contributing to agricultural production.
  • Utilising majority of organic waste (80-90%) – set real targets.
  • more on-farm recycling of nutrients through composting and wastewater management strategies.

Transition pathways: Initiatives identified to enable necessary shifts towards these goals include:

  • Increasing awareness around the phosphorus issue among growers, the fertilizer industry, and the waste management industry.
  • Increasing dialogue between these sectors so that they can identify synergies towards more effective nutrient management, especially ensuring that recycled fertilizers meet grower requirements.
  • Create a market for the waste.
  • Provide independent advice for farmers, including demo sites, good communication including digital resources
  • Link phosphorus to a broader policy framework, such as bioenergy, composting.
  • Retaining farmland in the west.
  • Programs to facilitate diet change.
  • Require soil testing to ensure farmers apply the appropriate amount and form of phosphorus.
Field Visits

For local and international P-FUTURES research partners, the Sydney field visits explored two very different farms – an inner city coastal Asian vegetable growers market, and two peri-urban farms in Wollondilly Shire on Sydney’s fringe. One of Sydney Water’s inland wastewater treatment and recycling plants, Rouse Hill, in the middle of an urban growth corridor and on a tributary in Sydney’s drinking water catchment was also visited.. These visits provided a richer understanding of the complexity of the new pressures and opportunities facing farmers, planners and wastewater service providers in Sydney’s growth areas, and specifically how this is likely to hinder or enhance sustainable phosphorus governance in Sydney. In particular, the P-FUTURES team witnessed and discussed the difficulty of agricultural production and particular the strain on Sydney’s farmers when dealing with increasing demand for residential land uses, and international markets driving prices down. This also highlighted the need for integrated planning and stronger coordination between the key service providers for food, housing and sanitation in the Sydney Basin.


Local research team (Institute for Sustainable Futures):

Dr. Dana Cordell, Research Principal, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney,,

Dr. Genevieve Metson, Visiting Research Fellow, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney,

Dr. Brent Jacobs, Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney,,

Professor Stuart White, Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney,,

Dr Dena Fam, Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney,

Participating stakeholder institutions:

  • Horticulture Australia
  • Sydney Water (wastewater)
  • Chinese Growers Association
  • Resource Recovery Australia
  • NSW Department of Planning
  • NSW Department of Primary Industries (Agriculture)
  • NSW Office of Environment & Heritage
  • NSW Government Local Land Services (Greater Sydney)
  • Sydney Peri-Urban Network / Wollondilly Shire Council
  • ACE Ohlsson (agricultural & horticultural Sydney suppliers)
  • Green Connect (jobs & urban sustainability)
  • Hawkesbury Harvest / University of Western Sydney
  • NSW Department of Primary Industries (Water)
  • Agricultural Consultant
News & Initiatives

Sydney workshop brings together farmers, agronomists & waste managers

THE CHANGING PHOSPHORUS LANDSCAPE: Risks & opportunities for agriculture and waste management in the Greater Sydney Basin

Richmond demonstration site, Sydney, 23rd June 2015



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Workshop: ‘Resource governance, geopolitics & social responsibility: the case of phosphorus’

Workshop: ‘Resource governance, geopolitics & social responsibility: the case of phosphorus’ hosted by the P-FUTURES Sydney team at World Resources Forum Asia Pacific UTS, Sydney. . Contact:

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Mapping Sydney’s Phosphorus Supply and Demand

Mapping Sydney’s Phosphorus Supply and Demand – Dr Gen Metson Endeavour Fellowship at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney Click here

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Sydney workshop brings together farmers, agronomists & waste managers

THE CHANGING PHOSPHORUS LANDSCAPE: Risks & opportunities for agriculture and waste management in the Greater Sydney Basin

Richmond demonstration site, Sydney, 23rd June 2015



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Global Phosphorus Research Initiative

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Australian Sustainable Phosphorus Futures program

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