A few months back we blogged about residents of Spokane, Washington smuggling dishwasher detergent with phosphates from relatively nearby Coeur d'Alene, Idaho when those products were banned in their county.
We pointed to this breezy quote from a Sierra Club website:
Consumer Reports in its March 2005 publication concluded that phosphate-free products work as well regular brands, noting it is the enzymes and not phosphates that get dishes clean.Spokanites disagree, apparently.
And now, so does Consumer Reports. I don't have the March 2005 issue around, but the most recent issue (August 2009) is pretty straightforward about contradicting what they (allegedly) said back then:
Proposed federal legislation to ban dishwasher detergents containing all but trace amounts of phosphates is designed to help the environment. But many of the eco-friendly products in the latest batch we tested are not great at cleaning dishes.Something smells bad here, and it ain't the algae. What happened between 2005 and 2009? After over four years of R&D, the soap companies have developed low-phosphate detergents that are actually worse at cleaning than they were before?
Detergents without phosphates--which help clean but also boost algae growth in freshwater, threatening fish and other plants--tended to perform worst overall.
I don't think so. Instead, I suspect low-phosphates were never very good.
Consumer Reports doesn't come out and say that a phosphate ban would be a bad idea—they have a reflexive bias in favor of Federal regulation—but they do note that dishwasher detergents "have a relatively low level of phosphates." Nobody is particularly fond of freshwater algal growth, but there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical that a ban would pass a cost/benefit test.
But the main point here is: you really want to take reassurances that "eco-friendly" regulations will be pain-free with a grain of phosphate-free salt.