Spotless Dishes v. Clean Water

White phosphrous molecule from Wikipedia Commons

A couple of news stories recently highlighted the dilemma posed by phosphorous,  a chemical used to make explosives, fireworks, pesticides, toothpaste, detergents, among other things.

Like a verdant lawn? Thank phosphorous.

Want your glasses to sparkle when they emerge from the dishwasher? It’s the phosphates in the soap that makes sure no spots mare that perfect shine.

Once these compounds run off your lawn or down the drain, however, it’s not such a pretty picture: They end up local watersheds and quite literally suck all the air out of the river, lake or bay. OK, a more scientifically sanctioned way of saying it: the chemicals consume so much oxygen that it makes it hard for aquatic life to survive.

But, heck, at least the dishes look great, right?  This New York Times story notes people are rebelling against detergent reformulated to ditch the phosphorous in favor of more environmentally friendly — but less spot-busting — ingredients.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Pilot reports on last Saturday’s face off between environmentalists and the administration of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell over efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, which has a hardcore phosphorous problem. The governor’s office is pushing a “nutrient trading” scheme that bears a strong resemblance to abandoned efforts in the U.S. Congress to set up a pollution cap-and-trade system. But Ann Jennings of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation isn’t buying the plan as a viable solution to the Bay’s long-running problems.


About greendistrict

I'm Christine MacDonald, a journalist and the author of the book: "Green, Inc., An Environmental Insider Reveals How a Good Cause Has Gone B

Posted on September 20, 2010, in Carbon footprint, Climate Change, Environment, environmental justice, Green Living, greenwash, health, lifestyle, Local Politics, National Politics, sustainability, Washington, World. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. People need to realize that not all who favor these measures are “tree hugging environmentalist vegans”. There is good reason that ordinary fisherman would be against phosphate pollution and farm runoff. Where I live – the problem is dust pollution. People incorrectly assume that “tree hugging environmentalists” are behind dust control measures, when in reality NIMBYs complain about the dust they have to sweep from their cars and pools every week. I haven’t used phosphate detergent in a decade. My general rule is to buy products that don’t have the extra ingredients that aren’t required for my health or safety.

    • So true. And it’s not until the elites are affected by environmental woes that anything is done about it. Meanwhile, the “tree hugging environmentalists” were really right all along and had the best interests of many of us at heart. Well, maybe not all of them…

  2. Or we could all revert to using paper plates and paper cups, chops sticks and cooking over an open fire. It’s biodegradable and hey, less dishes to clean.

    I agree, it is a problem. I’m sure there are scientists somewhere working on it. It’s things like this that the average person doesn’t always think of.

  3. Nice Post! Paper Plates and cups is an option its practical and less hassle.

  4. Very good post, I had absolutely no idea. Food for thought this one…

  5. I find that you can get spot free dishes even with ‘friendly’ soaps if you wash them and then dry them by hand right away instead of in the dishwasher. Crazy I know, but at our house we have people who do that. They are sometimes referred to as kids.

  6. I’m loving all of these comments tho I must side with you, crazymominthevalley, on the question of paper v. dishwasher-citos.

  7. Interesting write-up, I’d heard about this vaguely but not really understood what it was all about. There are so many factors to consider in becoming more environmentally conscious — using paper plates would save water and avoid chemical detergents, but we are meant to be using less paper to reduce that cause of deforestation… washing by dishwasher can be more water-efficient (according to some at least) but requires electricity to run and could be made of unfriendly plastics/metals… and so on. It is so hard to keep track of each factor and decide which choice is better overall!

  8. Great post!
    Please read my post about Water’s footprint in Fashion: you’d be surprised at how much impact your personal or family clothing preferences have on the environment.

  9. Very true – few people realise the prices of their sparkly dishes. Yet phosphate free detergent is quite easy to get your hands on, people just have to be prepared to vote with their wallets!

  10. Hi to all, it’s actually a good for me to visit this web page, it consists of important Information.

  1. Pingback: Cows will be Cows: Spotless Dishes v. Clean Water – Take Two « Greendistrict's Blog

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