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News|09 Jul, 2009

Retailers around the Baltic Sea are selling products that contribute to eutrophication

Retailers around the Baltic Sea are selling products that contribute to eutrophication
No, it is not pea soup. It is blue green algae. Baltic Sea, Finland.

“Retailers around the Baltic Sea have the future of the sea in their hands”, says WWF in letters sent to retailers around the Baltic Sea region, asking them to take detergents containing phosphates off their shelves.

Phosphates have traditionally been used as an active agent in laundry and dishwasher detergents, usually in concentrations of 30-40 percent. Phosphates contain phosphorus which is the main contributor to summer algal blooms. Each kilogram of phosphorus that reaches the sea can produce 500 kilograms of algae. Phosphates from detergents are estimated to contribute between 9 and 24 percent of all anthropogenic phosphorus in the Baltic Sea. Today, there are several alternatives to phosphates on the market.

Already last year, WWF contacted manufacturers of detergents around the Baltic Sea to ask them to voluntarily replace phosphates in their products with other available alternatives. Although some companies agreed to replace phosphates in some products, detergents containing phosphates, particularly dishwashing detergents, are still readily available on the market.

Sweden has already banned phosphates in laundry detergents and is planning to introduce a ban for dishwashing detergents in June 2011. Other countries are slowly following suit and the EU Commission is currently preparing for a total ban in the whole EU. Still, detergents containing phosphates can be found in any supermarket in any country.

“Things are clearly going in the right direction, but way too slow”, says Pauli Merriman, Director, WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme. “We have a crisis situation in the Baltic Sea and the alternatives are here already. Retailers and their consumers now have a chance to make a real contribution. We really hope that these retail chains will heed our call and take these products off their shelves”.

Several studies have shown that replacing phosphates in detergents is the easiest, fastest and most cost-efficient way to reduce eutrophication in the Baltic Sea. The difference would be substantial and at the same time, the cost of banning phosphates in laundry and dish washing detergents has been characterized as “negligible”.

“Some studies have even shown that a phosphate ban can be an opportunity for industry, as it would create incentives for new technical innovations”, says Pauli Merriman. “For society as a whole the cost would be less than zero – it would be an economic gain!”

“We also urge consumers to put pressure on the retailers and ask for both laundry and dishwasher detergents without phosphates”, Pauli Merriman continues.

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