A large number of household detergents and cleaning agents contain components called phosphates, which have been known to cause environmental hazards. Phosphates began to replace soap for household purposes after World War II.

Phosphates carry into waste systems and are hard to break down by ordinary wastewater processing systems. As they carry into streams, lakes and rivers, they increase algae growth and subsequently decrease the oxygen that is needed for healthy aquatic life, and contribute to the pollution of water bodies.

Unlike pesticides, phosphates are not directly toxic. However, their presence in freshwater and marine areas alters the nutrient system, and in consequence the species composition of specific ecosystems.

In the Danube, the excessive nutrients and pollution are not only affecting the basin but also the Black Sea into which the Danube spills. Anthropogenic nutrient loads to the Black Sea over the last 50 years have left a clear mark.

“Eutrophication” is the process caused by excessive inputs of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, and it is a condition that stimulates the growth of algae leading to imbalance in water systems, such as intense algal blooms, production of excess organic matter causing decreased water transparency, oxygen depletion with resulting dead zones at the sea bottoms as well as death of for example fish.

The most effective way for both industry and governments to reach these goals would be an EU wide ban. European negotiations on a phosphate ban have been ongoing for years but there is still no harmonized EU legislation on the use of phosphates in detergents.

Today WWF is promoting an EU wide ban on phosphates in all detergents, including for laundry, for dishwashers and for cleaning, for household as well as for commercial use. In practice this means for laundry detergents a concentration limit of 0.2 % phosphorus (i.e. 0.8 % phosphate) and for dishwasher detergents a concentration limit of 0.5 % phosphorus (i.e. 2.0 % phosphate).

WWF urges the European Commission and the European Parliament to prepare respective legislation as quickly as possible as an easy, fast and low-cost way of reducing the phosphate load of surface waters and thereby improving overall water quality.


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WWF staff

Occupation: WWF staff
Location: Bulgaria


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phosphates | Black Sea