Canada’s Conservative government says it will bring down the limit on allowable phosphates in detergents to .5 per cent in 2010. Far too late, environmental critics are saying. Quebec, like Manitoba, will impose the limit next year, while several Quebec retailers have begun to promote low phosphate products already.
The aim, of course, is to stop phosphate from polluting water courses and lakes with chemicals which spur the growth of blue green algae. Serious water pollution may be the result. But why wait two years to impose the limits, environmentalists are asking A year is plenty of time for manufacturers to get rid of stocks, and there are a number of products—including homegrown ones—ready to fill the demand.
The saddest thing in this debate is the fact that nearly 30 years ago citizen pressure resulted in a substantial decrease in the phosphate content of detergent for clothes washing machines. At the time, it seemed the problem was going to be solved, but not only were detergents for dishwashers exempted from the regulations but also apparently no phosphate limits were put on other kinds of cleaners.
Today there are a lot more dishwashers than there were so long ago, producing a much greater phosphate load than was expected in the 1970s. If there is a moral to this story it is: do not trust a government or an industry to quietly lay down their arms if there is a way around a regulation.
A related question is: why use dishwashers anyway? New models use between 3 and 10 gallons of water per wash, apparently, but hand washing uses about half that if you are turn off the faucet between rinses. And while it may be nice to fill a dishwasher after a dinner party and turn the thing on while you go to bed to sleep off the good food and drink, for ordinary meals I’m not convinced you save much time—and certainly use more energy and water—if you use a machine.
Not convinced? A study cited on Treehugger says that new, high efficiency European machines are better environmentally than hand washing, but as the comments suggest the study may have some built-in biases in favour of the machines. Maybe we need a dish washing bee to compare technique and water use. What do you say?