European Commission plans laundry detergent clean-up

The European Commission is proposing to ban the use of phosphates and to limit the content of other phosphorous-containing compounds in laundry detergents in a move to reduce the presence of the substance in wastewater and to improve water quality.

European Commission vice-president Antonio Tajani, commissioner for industry and entrepreneurship, said: ’The Commission’s proposal to ban phosphates in laundry detergents will ensure that European citizens benefit from an increased water quality of their lakes, rivers and marine waters.’

When excessively discharged into water, phosphates, such as 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’.

Phosphates are primarily used in detergents to ensure efficient cleaning in hard water. The substance, which originates from detergents and discharges into waste water, has to be removed through costly chemical or biological processes at wastewater treatment plants. Not all treatment plants in the EU are equipped with the necessary technology to carry this out.

The European Commission says that its proposal would benefit not only wastewater treatment plants, by reducing the cost of removing phosphates, but also consumers who pay for wastewater treatment.