EC Proposal: Ban of phosphates in laundry detergents finally coming

ICPDR Executive Secretary Philip Weller welcomed the proposal to severely limit phosphates in laundry detergents and described the action “As a huge success for the ICPDR. We have fought for a number of years to get this and we need to celebrate and acknowledge that the tactics we used in promoting this limitation have been successful”.

The Ministerial Declaration adopted in February 2010 by Danube water ministers stressed the importance of achieving a limitation of phosphates in detergents. The Ministers described “limitations in phosphates in detergents as a particularly cost effective and necessary measure to complement the efforts of implementing urban waste water treatment.”

The proposed regulation which will come into effect in early January (unless adjusted by the Parliament or the Council) will limit the phosphorous content of laundry detergents. This will be a major contribution to improve the quality of many water bodies in Europe. The Danube River Basin will strongly benefit from the ban: No less than 16 percent of the Danube’s phosphate load stems from detergents.

Phosphates are used to improve the cleaning effect of detergents, especially when used with hard water. The removal of phosphates from wastewater is costly and requires sophisticated technologies, which many wastewater treatment plants in the Danube Basin do not have in place. As a result, a lot of phosphate is carried to the Black Sea, where it contributes to strongly increased levels of nutrients. This phenomenon is called “eutrophication” and increases the growth of algae, commonly called “green tide”. Such green tides are a well-known problem in both the Danube Delta and the Black Sea – caused primarily by agriculture, household sewage and wastewater that originated in various upstream countries. Such a situation can not be resolved unilaterally. Therefore, the ICPDR has fought phosphate contamination for many years on a multilateral level, involving the European Commission.

The regulation that was now proposed aims to harmonise phosphate reducing measures in all member states of the European Union. A shortcoming of the regulation will lie in its applicability: It will affect only laundry detergents, whereas dishwasher detergents are not included in the phosphorus cap. The current proposal only demands a re-assessment of the situation with regards to dishwasher detergents in 2014. “The Commission will keep under review industry’s progress in the development of technically and economically viable alternatives for automatic dishwasher detergents through innovation”, says Antonio Tajani, Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship in a comment on the regulation proposal. The ICPDR will continue to monitor the phosphate load in the Danube and its tributaries and fight for additional measures where necessary. The proposed regulation should be adopted in two months time; the ICPDR will provide further information once this has happened.


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