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News|14 Dec, 2011

WWF’s persistent work to ban phosphates in detergents finally paying off

Blue-green algae, Baltic Sea, Finland
Phosphates contain phosphorus which is the main contributor to summer algal blooms.

WWF has been campaigning for the past five years to ban phosphates in laundry and dishwasher detergents. The European Parliament agreed today to eliminate high-content phosphate detergents from the European market. The new restrictions will apply on 30 June 2013 for laundry and on 1st January 2017 for automatic dishwasher detergents.

WWF welcomes this decision but is critical of the excessive deadlines given to companies to prepare. Phosphates boost not only the cleaning performance of detergents but also contribute to algae growth in our waters, consuming large portions of oxygen and causing severe stress to living water organisms like fish, plants and other aquatic life.

Phosphates from laundry and dishwasher detergents are one of the major causes of eutrophication of the Baltic Sea. It has been estimated that these phosphates may contribute up to 24% of the total inputs of phosphorus to the sea. A ban on phosphorus in detergents has been shown to be the most cost-effective measure to reduce eutrophication, but some governments have up until now been reluctant to introduce a ban.

“We realized at an early stage that governments were in the hands of industry on this issue”, says Pauli Merriman, Programme Director of the WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme. “So WWF began its campaign by conducting a survey of detergent manufacturers and contacted them directly to find out who was willing to cooperate with us and stop using phosphates voluntarily. Through this approach, WWF was able to secure some early commitments by major manufacturers to commit to phosphate-free detergents, which encouraged other companies to follow suit. And, once WWF had the industry with us, it was much easier to get a legal ban.”

While some countries around the Baltic Sea had started to introduce their own national bans, others had no or very limited restrictions on phosphates. “This means one more box we can tick in our work to save the Baltic Sea”, says Pauli Merriman. “The ban is very good news for the Baltic Sea and for all of us who love spending time in and on the sea.”

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 up to 500 kilograms of algae. Phosphates from detergents are estimated to have contributed between 9 and 24 percent (or 3,000-6,000 tonnes per year) of all anthropogenic phosphorus in the Baltic Sea.


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