Life cycle assessment of nutrient recycling from wastewater: A critical review

Ka Leung Lam*, Ljiljana Zlatanović, Jan Peter van der Hoek

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleScientificpeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)
76 Downloads (Pure)


Recovering resources from wastewater systems is increasingly being emphasised. Many technologies exist or are under development for recycling nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater to agriculture. Planning and design methodologies are needed to identify and deploy the most sustainable solutions in given contexts. For the environmental sustainability dimension, life cycle assessment (LCA) can be used to assess environmental impact potentials of wastewater-based nutrient recycling alternatives, especially nitrogen and phosphorus recycling. This review aims to evaluate how well the LCA methodology has been adapted and applied for assessing opportunities of wastewater-based nutrient recycling in the form of monomineral, multimineral, nutrient solution and organic solid. We reviewed 65 LCA studies that considered nutrient recycling from wastewater for agricultural land application. We synthesised some of their insights and methodological practices, and discussed the future outlook of using LCA for wastewater-based nutrient recycling. In general, more studies suggested positive environmental outcomes from wastewater-based nutrient recycling, especially when chemical inputs are minimised, and source separation of human excreta is achieved. The review shows the need to improve methodological consistency (e.g., multifunctionality, fertiliser offset accounting, contaminant accounting), ensure transparency of inventory and methods, consider uncertainty in comparative LCA context, integrate up-to-date cross-disciplinary knowledge (e.g., agriculture science, soil science) into LCA models, and consider the localised impacts of recycled nutrient products. Many opportunities exist for applying LCA at various scales to support decisions on wastewater-based nutrient recycling – for instance, performing “product perspective” LCA on recycled nutrient products, integrating “process perspective” LCA with other systems approaches for selecting and optimising individual recovery processes, assessing emerging nutrient recovery technologies and integrated resource recovery systems, and conducting systems analysis at city, national and global level.

Original languageEnglish
Article number115519
Number of pages16
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2020


  • Agricultural land application
  • Environmental impacts
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Nutrient recovery
  • Nutrient recycling
  • Wastewater


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