Fabian Demicoli

Consumer Laundry Detergents: Limitation on the content of Phosphates & of other Phosphorous compound

 In its Report of 4 May 2007
the Commission evaluated the use of phosphates in detergents. It has been
concluded that the use of phosphates in consumer laundry detergents should be
limited in order to reduce the contribution of phosphates from detergents to
eutrophication risks and to reduce the cost of phosphates removal in waste
water treatment plants.

Those
cost savings outweigh the cost of reformulating consumer laundry detergents
with alternatives to phosphates.

When
excessively discharged into water, phosphates, like nitrates, can raise the
amount of nutrients to an unsustainable level, eventually causing algae to grow
at the expense of other aquatic life. This phenomenon is known as
'eutrophication' or, more commonly, 'red tides' or 'green tides'.

The main
sources of discharge of phosphates into surface waters are agriculture and
sewage with detergents coming in third position.

Phosphates
are primarily used in detergents to ensure efficient cleaning in hard water.
Phosphates originating from detergents and discharged into waste water have to
be removed through costly chemical or biological processes at waste water
treatment plants. Not all treatment plants in the EU are equipped with the
necessary technology to carry this out.

Efficient
alternatives to phosphate-based consumer laundry detergents require small
amounts of other phosphorus compounds, namely phosphonates which, if used in
increasing quantities, might be of concern for the environment. While it is
important to encourage the use of alternative substances with a more favourable
environmental profile than phosphates and other phosphorus compounds in the
manufacture of consumer laundry detergents, such substances should, under their
normal conditions of use, present no risk, or a lower risk, to humans and/or
the environment.

Regulation
(EC) No 648/2004 on detergents was amended by Regulation (EU) No 259/2012 to
limit the use of phosphates and other phosphorous compounds in consumer laundry
detergents and consumer automatic dishwasher detergents. The Regulation
proposes a phosphorous content limit of 0.5% of the total weight of the product
in all laundry detergents on the EU market. This will apply as of 30th June
2013, to allow detergent manufacturers to minimise the costs of modifying the
composition of laundry detergents in a normal product life cycle.

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