We're phosphate free at our house. I have a well and we love our river
Although phosphates are an important plant nutrient, higher than normal phosphate levels can destroy the health of the lake, stream or other fresh water body, as they allow algae in the water to grow faster than would naturally occur, turning clear lakes and rivers green and cloudy. This extra algal growth is not only unappealing to look at, but can also make the water smell bad and make it unsuitable for swimming. It can also make drinking water more expensive to filter and can spoil the taste or smell of the drinking water. In the long run, the excess algal growth can have devastating impacts on the health and age of a fresh water lake or river, causing eutrophication to speed up, where lakes and other water bodies fill in with dead algae and other organic matter and eventually turn into dry land.
Given these harmful effects, laws or regulations were enacted in many U.S. states, the European Union, Canada, and in Japan to limit or ban the use of phosphates in laundry detergents. These limits and bans likely had the added benefit of convincing laundry detergent makers to replace phosphates from their products with non-phosphate alternatives, such as zeolite A, sodium carbonate, citrates, and sodium silicate. Although not in use in the United States, Canada, Japan, and many Western European countries, phosphate-containing laundry detergents are still used in many other countries.
Recently, some governments have also begun to look at regulating phosphates in automatic dishwashing detergents, which can contain anywhere from 4-8% phosphorus. Beginning in the middle of next year, for example, the State of Washington will gradually put in place a phosphate ban for dishwashing detergents in an effort to protect the Spokane River. Whether more state and federal governments will follow Washingtonâ€™s example is not clear, although groups are working to see that it happens.
In the meantime, you could on your own choose to use automatic dishwasher detergents that do not contain phosphates. The March 2005 issue of Consumer Reports rated phosphate-free dishwashing detergents, with several brands rated highly including Seventh Generation, Ecover Natural and Trader Joe's brand. In addition to using these non-phosphate detergents, you could also follow other advice and tips to help the environment while cleaning your dishes, as shown in this previous TreeHugger article.Ask TreeHugger: What's the Dirt on Phosphate-Free Soaps? : TreeHugger