Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dishwasher detergents are now lending a hand to clean water

by Brook Beeler, environmental educator, Eastern Region Office

Have you noticed? The detergent industry has changed the formula of your favorite dishwasher detergent product. Look around, now you’ll only be finding the new, low-phosphate formulas on the grocery shelves.

This change affects everybody who runs a dishwasher in their home kitchen.

So what?

Phosphorus is a water pollution problem because when it gets into our waters, it acts like a fertilizer to algae and other aquatic plants in fresh water. When these plants and organisms die, their decay uses up oxygen, suffocating our fish and other aquatic life.

And sewer treatment plants can’t remove all of the phosphorus that arrives in untreated water.

Statewide and beyond

So starting in July 1st, Spokane and Whatcom counties won’t be the only counties in Washington state to require the sale of low phosphate automatic dishwashing detergents for residential use. The new law goes into effect for all of Washington and 15 other states on July 1.

In an ongoing effort to improve water quality in our lakes, rivers, streams, and marine waters, Washington will stop the distribution and sale of dishwasher detergents that contain more than 0.5 percent phosphorus. Because soaps designed for washing dishes by hand are already phosphorus-free, the new requirement affects only soaps used in automatic dishwashers.

The Washington Legislature passed the law in 2006 and it went into effect in Spokane and Whatcom counties in July 2008.

The new limits on phosphorus in dishwasher detergent are an extension of phosphorus limits already in place for laundry detergent. By reducing phosphorus in our everyday household products, we can reduce nutrient pollution.

We’re on a roll

The Soap and Detergent Association tell us the rest of the United States and Canada are also jumping on the new low-phosphate dishwasher detergent diet!

Removing phosphorus from dishwashing detergents is just one action being taken to protect Washington’s Waters from pollution. The simplest way to reduce phosphorus in water is to not put it in there in the first place.

The other 15 states joining Washington in the move away from phosphate-laden detergents July 1, 2010 are Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Want all the details on the dishwasher detergent law? Visit our reducing phosphorus webpage. You find resources and learn how alternative products work.

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