Phosphates in laundry detergents during the '60s and '70s might have had our mothers seeing whiter whites, but they also turned our streams, rivers and lakes green.
Phosphates are minerals that can soften water, but they also act as fertilizers. They enter our waterways via laundry detergents, human and animal waste, phosphorus-rich bedrock, industrial effluents and fertilizer run-off.
Outright bans or limits on phosphate concentrations in laundry soap date back to the '70s when our waterways were choked with excessive aquatic plant growth or algal blooms. Canada was one of the first countries to ban phosphorus in laundry detergents!
Last year, Canada banned phosphates in dishwasher soap. Why did it take 30 years to ban phosphates in dishwasher soap? Once a luxury item, dishwashers are now a coveted item in most Canadian households. Did your home have a dishwasher in the '70s or '80s? (I can picture my dishpan hands as a child now.)
This CBC news story includes an interview with a consumer who attributed his not-so-shiny looking dishware and cutlery to the lack of phosphates in his dishwasher soap. So, what's a person to do?
When it comes to sourcing an eco-friendly yet effective dishwasher soap I suggest:
Read the ingredients
No ingredients on the label? Then it is best left on the shelf. Although companies are not required by law to disclose their ingredients, some do, and if you value transparency, you might choose to let it guide your purchasing decisions. For example, many contain dry chlorine, which, when dissolved in water, produces chlorine fumes that can cause eye irritation and breathing difficulty. Choose brands with natural plant-based ingredients and no chlorine.
Look for the Green Seal label
Certification guarantees that the product performs as well, if not better than, conventional products and that it's biodegradable. Green Seal products won't irritate your skin or eyes, and they won't make you sick if inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin. Harmful ingredients like phthalates, heavy metals and optical brighteners are also banned. Makes you wonder what's in all that other stuff.
Make your own soap, sometimes
Want a list of ranked eco-brands?
Author Adria Vasil lists and ranks six eco-brands on page 24 of her book Ecoholic Home. On a scale of one to five green thumbs, one means "you'd be better off with spit on a rag" and five means "a clean freak's dream." Pick up your copy at your local library or buy one for continual reference.
How have you managed to simplify and green up your household cleaning regime without sacrificing quality results?
Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green