Dirtier Dishes, Cleaner Lakes

The NYT reports on the mixed consumer reactions to “environmentally friendly,” low-phospate dishwashing detergents.  Consumer produce manufacturers have begun selling low-phosphate detergents in response to laws in several states requiring product reformulation.

The article also notes that the environmental benefits of reformulated products can depend on how consumers respond.  Low-flow toilets don’t save as much water if they prompt some users to flush multiple times.  Might there be a similar rebound effect with low-phosphate detergents?  Perhaps.

Phosphorus in the form of phosphates suspends particles so they do not stick to dishes and softens water to allow suds to form.

Now that the content in dishwasher detergent has plummeted to 0.5 percent from as high as 8.7 percent, many consumers are just noticing the change in the wash cycle as they run out of the old product

“Low-phosphate dish detergents are a waste of my money,” said Thena Reynolds, a 55-year-old homemaker from Van Zandt County, Tex., who said she ran her dishwasher twice a day for a family of five. Now she has to do a quick wash of the dishes before she puts them in the dishwasher to make sure they come out clean, she said. “If I’m using more water and detergent, is that saving anything?” Ms. Reynolds said. “There has to be a happy medium somewhere.”

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