Phos-fates: An Environmental Pollutant Meets Its End | Seventh Generation
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Phos-fates: An Environmental Pollutant Meets Its End

Author: scienceman

Mark your calendar and remember the date. Something big is going to happen, something we've been waiting for and working toward for a very long time:

The end of phosphates in automatic dishwasher detergents, the last cleaning product refuge of these water pollutants.

On July 1, a voluntary ban on phosphates in household dishwasher detergents in the U.S. will be implemented by many members of the American Cleaning Institute (ACI, formerly the Soap and Detergent Association), a manufacturer trade group that represents most major companies in the cleaning products industry.

It's a landmark moment, indeed. We have made phosphate-free products for years and proven that they work. And we’ve worked for years to make this desperately needed change an industry reality. As such, we’re celebrating a well-earned victory in the effort to build a cleaner, healthier world.

What's wrong with phosphates?
Phosphates are not your typical hazardous pollutant. They don't cause bodily harm. In fact, phosphates are essential to life. But when we as a population rinse large quantities of phosphates down our drains by using a phosphate-containing automatic dishwasher detergent, harmful negative and cumulative environmental effects happen.

Phosphates travel to local lakes, ponds, rivers and streams where they become nutrients for algae. In response to this flood of "food," the algae begin feasting and reproducing, and an algae bloom can result. When the algae overdo it, they use up available food, and die out. When that happens, bacteria move in to consume their remains. Now it's the bacteria's turn to gorge on an abundance of food, and as they do, they use up the oxygen in the water. What comes next are dead zones, fish kills, and lifeless waters that can eventually fill in and disappear completely.

No more freshwater. No more swimming. No more fishing. No more beauty.

Technically, the process is called eutrophication, but we just call it unnecessary because as we’ve shown for years, you don’t need this pollution and the damage it does to get your dishes clean.

Why are phosphates used?
Phosphates are added to dishwasher detergents to soften water so a formula’s surfactant cleaning agents can work better. Without this softening, minerals present in water supplies would combine with these surfactants to create a greasy gray soap scum that clogs dishwashers and makes dishes dirtier. But other materials can soften water, too. They're not as cheap to use as phosphates, but as our own phosphate-free formula demonstrates, they can work just as well when properly formulated.

Moving toward a solution
For a decade, we've been explaining this to state legislatures considering a ban on phosphates in dishwasher detergents. We’ve provided hours of expert testimony and handed out samples of our own no-phosphate formula as proof it can be done. We’ve also worked with non-profit groups working to clean up and prevent pollution such as our friends at Clean Water Action, and as a member of the ACI, we've spent years urging the change at association meetings. Anywhere we could, we’ve taken the lead to ban phosphates.

And now that work has finally paid off. The industry has seen the light at last, and on July, 1, the ban we've fought so long and so hard for begins. Manufacturers are reformulating their dish detergents to be phosphate-free. Only traces of phosphates naturally found in other mineral ingredients will remain (up to a maximum limit of 0.5%). And while existing stocks of phosphate-based formulas will take a while to clear off store shelves, by this time next year, the country's dishwashers will no longer be feeding deadly algae blooms.

When combined with the ban on phosphates in laundry formulas of the 1990s and legislation in 16 states (and counting) that legally mandate their exclusion from dishwasher detergents, we’re a step closer to being a phosphate pollution-free nation. There are still major sources of phosphates we have to deal with (lawn chemicals, farm runoff and human waste are the big ones), and plenty of other serious water pollutants remain in household products, but make no mistake—this is a huge victory that deserves a big celebration.

It's also a great demonstration of the power that we all have when we unite to tackle our challenges and create a new vision of what's possible. The new phosphate ban is a direct result of ordinary people working with non-profits working with companies like ours working with governments. Nobody did this alone. But we all did it together.

That, too, is something to celebrate. So join us on July 1 in raising a (sparkling non-phosphate-cleaned) glass of pure water to a hard-fought win and a world that just got that much cleaner. Both prove we can do it when we try. And both show it's well worth it when we do.


spipczynski picture
We just bought a new dishwasher and decided to change to a no phosphate detergent. At first I was concerned our new dishwasher was defective. I am constantly rewashing bowls, utensils and glasses by hand. I am glad to know I am not the only one who suffers from hard water and that I won't need to contact the manufacturer of our dishwasher. I was using the 7G gel detergent and was going to try the powder form but I think I am going back to a traditional detergent. We have a septic system and I am hoping the phosphates will break down naturally. I truly hope 7G will find an alternative to phosphate that works better. I will be the first one in line to buy it when they do.
brd2145 picture
I agree with suz5150. I use a lot of 7th Generation products, but I have been very disappointed with the automatic dishwashing soap. If my dishes aren't clean before I put them in the dishwasher, they aren't clean when I take them out. Dry food is still there. The glasses are cloudy. Things just don't look clean. So I end up having to wash any food off the dishes before I put the dishes in the dishwasher and that just means a waste of water. I even use vinegar in the rinse-aid compartment, but the glasses still come out cloudy. I also have hard water, which I'm sure is part of the problem. But I'm not planning to buy the 7th Generation dishwasher soap again.
suz5150 picture
I have to say, while the last thing I want to do is destroy lakes and kill fish, I am not a consumer that is excited to see phosphates removed from the dishwasher soap. In April I first learned about the issues surrounding phosphates and I immediately switched to SeventhGen's dishwasher soap and that is when things went down hill. I live in a city that has extremly hard water and my husband and I cannot afford a water softner. Now, we are having to scrimp to try to purchase and install one. So back to my bad expereince... the dishes started having a funky feel and when I held them in the light I could see this weird sheen on them.. and then the silverware began discolored. Any BPA-free plastic cups I had became scratched and had to all be thrown away because the soap was not washing my dishes.. it was sand blasting. The inside of my new Fisher-Paykel dishwashers were also sandblasted since the soap was not disolving. I have spent too much money trying to get it clean and back to normal working condition. I use almost every SeventhGen product out there in my house (my mom laughts that I am a walking ad) but I cannot use their dishsoap and on July 1st was raiding the shelves of several local Targets to get the last of any dishwasher soap that had phosphates. I hope they can update their formula for those of us with really hard city water!
PeterBear picture
Well, I agree phosphates in large quantities can play havoc on our water eco-system. However, preventing the use of phosphates in laundry and dishwasher products is really not where we should be focusing our attention. 1- The amount of phosphates from residential laundry and dishwater that makes it into the actual water system is low; - most municipalities in North America and Europe collect the water, treat it and in the process collect the excessive phosphates. In many cities they actually add phosphates to help with the waste water treatment. 2- Farm animals produce significantly more phosphate based waste that human do and farmers allow more waste, high in phosphates, to run off into our water streams. 3- While its all good that we play a roll in cleaning up our water ways and reducing the amount of phosphates we dump into the water. Industrial companies are usually grandfathered into these phosphate bans and they will continue to dump millions of gallons of phosphate contaminated water into our rivers. One company can do more harm than a small city with 1 million people do. Why? Because they dump into the river and lakes, the consumer dumps into the city drain system. 4- We began substituting phosphates with Zeolites, hmmmm, the word on the benefits and dangers of Zeolites is still not 100%. Zeolites cause a sludge to build up in our waste water treatment plants. That means they need to then add other chemicals to clean up the sludge . . . one such chemical, phosphates. 5- Municipalities that collect phosphates usually end up selling the phosphates to third party sources. The problem is that we are not as well informed as we would like to think. While I totally support cleaning products made from plant products and other sustainable sources. Phosphates play an important role in our day-to-day lives. We consume phosphates in most of our processed foods, we excrete a lot of phosphates in both out urine and fecal matter. Yet we are not the main reason phosphates are polluting the water system. We are just a small element in the big picture. Here is a question we should ask. What will happen to us, the farming community, the eco-system when we have reduced our phosphate levels to the point where it now becomes a depleted source and we begin to suffer from the lack of having phosphates in the eco-system? What other products/chemicals are we dumping that will cause more problems for life on this planet because phosphates are no longer able to fight off the negative affects of these chemicals? Finally if we turn phosphates into a scares commodity, how expensive will it be in the near future and which groups will control the supply and cost? Peter
gracej picture
I had no idea that phosphates could cause all of those things to happen. Glad to hear that everyone stepped up and put a stop to it.