Exploring the circular potential of the marine bioeconomy in Sweden

Circular flows of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) are desirable for several reasons. The planetary boundaries with respect to these nutrient cycles have been exceeded beyond a safe operating space, which results in a number of environmental pressures and sustainability concerns (Steffen et al. 2015). Notably, food security and society as a whole depend on finite mineral P resources, which today are typically consumed in a linear manner, from mine to P sinks such as oceans and seas, and for which stocks are expected to last another 50-100 years at current extraction rates (Cordell, Drangert and White 2009). Given that P is finite and cannot be artificially replaced, there are few resources worldwide for which pathways to a circular economy are more urgently needed.

Low trophic marine biomass – such as mussels, oysters, seaweed and reed – fix nutrients including N and P as they grow. When these are harvested (wild or cultivated), these nutrients are returned to human consumption systems thus effectively closing the loop. Wild harvesting of biomass and low trophic aquaculture are on the rise in Sweden though many of these activities struggle to subsist economically and/or are faced with barriers to scaling-up despite the vital nutrient uptake roles they are providing to society.

In the project 'Marine bioeconomy for circular nitrogen and phosphorus flows in Sweden: Alternatives, hurdles and policy tools', a birds-eye perspective on recent blue growth developments in Sweden is provided, including for seven specific case studies of low trophic marine biomass utilisation, visions for future developments, hurdles to achieve these visions and enabling policies. The project includes assessments of suitable biomass using life-cycle perspectives, quantification of N and P flows back to human consumption systems using element flow analysis, and close cooperation with a range of stakeholders to overcome hurdles and identify pathways to enhance loop closure in the coming decades. The team is interdisciplinary consisting of researchers from KTH, Tyrens, Anthesis and IVL specialized in life cycle assessment, material flow analysis and environmental economics, gender equality, marine ecology, governance, social impact assessment and environmental policy. The project is funded by Formas (2017-00213) and will be finalised by December 2020.   

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Cordell, D., J.-O. Drangert, and S. White, The story of phosphorus: Global food security and food for thought. Global Environmental Change, 2009. 19(2): p. 292-305.
Steffen, W., et al., Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science, 2015. 347(6223): p. 1259855.


SUBMARINER Network for Blue Growth EEIG

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