EU moves to ban phosphorus in household detergents

The European Parliament Environment Committee yesterday held its first exchange of views on the possibility of setting a limit on the permitted content of phosphorus in household detergents.

Phosphorus leaked into European lakes, streams and rivers can lead to eutrophication – the overgrowth of algae which can starve fish and other plant life of oxygen. Phosphorus gets into groundwater mainly from fertilisers or animal and human waste, which is not addressed in the current proposal, but phosphorus does make up 25% of current domestic wastewater. The phosphorus used in household detergents, and fed directly into water supplies, is nevertheless one source of eutrophication that is relatively easy and inexpensive to address in household cleaning detergents as effective substitutes for cleaning and softening water already exist on the market.

The Commission’s proposal, which takes the form of an amendment to the original 2004 regulation on detergents (EC 648/2004), is to restrict the use of phosphates and other phosphorus compounds in household laundry detergents.

EP Rapporteur Bill Newton Dunn (Lib Dem, UK) proposes to go further and include automatic dishwasher detergents in the ban as well.

“The Commission proposal is welcome but not ambitious enough. A large and ever-increasing proportion of household laundry detergents are already phosphate-free thanks to the initiative of the industry itself. Therefore, it makes sense not only from an environmental, but also from a market harmonisation perspective, to restrict phosphorus content at the EU level.”

“Although less progress has been made so far in formulating reliable low-phosphorus automatic dishwashing detergents, technologies are available, and manufacturers are innovating all the time. Indeed, three EU member states already have set limits on phosphorus content in dishwasher detergents, as well as Norway, and 17 US states.”

“Therefore, I believe a greener approach is indeed possible. The Commission proposal to make a report by the end of 2014 into dishwasher detergents will just delay progress. Setting a date for a ban will require manufacturers to step up their efforts to produce less polluting formulations, and from my investigations into the industry, I am confident that by 2015 consumers will be able to expect products that meet their expectations in terms of cleaning, whilst also reducing the negative impact on our environment.”


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