Eco-friendlier detergents start to appear in stores before ban

June 16, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 6 a.m. June 16, 2010

Low-phosphate dishwasher detergents started to appear in stores statewide in early June, as the state readies for a new requirement.

Starting July 1, the state will require all dishwasher detergents to have low-phosphate formulas. The requirement applies only to residential uses, not commercial and industrial dishwasher products.

Phosphorus creates water pollution problems and acts as a fertilizer to algae and plants. The plants and organisms die, and decay uses oxygen, suffocating fish and other aquatic life.

Though sewage-treatment plants can remove much of the phosphorus from wastewater, some of the element still reaches rivers, lakes and streams. Some estimates attribute detergent for 10 percent to 12 percent of the phosphorus in wastewater.

“The easiest way to remove phosphorus from wastewater is to not put it in to begin with,” state Department of Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant said in a news release. “Using less phosphorus in dishwasher detergents is something that all citizens can do to help keep our waters clean.”

The upcoming law requires no more than 0.5 percent phosphorus in detergents. The products could contain up to 8.7 percent phosphorus. Because soaps made for washing dishes by hand must be already phosphorus-free, the upcoming requirement affects only soaps used in automatic dishwashers.

State legislators passed the law in 2006, making Washington the first state in the nation to pass such a law. The measure went into effect first in Spokane and Whatcom counties in July 2008.

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