Phosphates are naturally occurring compounds crucial for life on our planet. The fact that living organisms use phosphates has been a key argument in the detergent manufacturers claims that phosphates are not dangerous and do not need to be removed. But once again, that old adage ‘too much of a good thing..’ rings true in the case of phosphates. Although nature uses and needs phosphates it does not need the huge volume we are depositing in the waterways.

As we send such vast quantities of phosphates into our water system, algae feed happily on this free meal. Sadly the algae bloom out of control. Whole coastlines in the Baltic and Adriatic Seas become covered in a mass of thick algae. While it lives in such un-sustainable volume it blocks light and warmth from the organisms struggling to live below it.

As the algae dies it then becomes un-naturally large swathes of dead matter. With the algae decomposing, suffocating out light, heat and oxygen from all the other struggling organisms in its stretch of water. As anaerobic bacteria decompose the dead algae the oxygen levels in the body of water are much reduced. It is likely that fish and other water borne organisms will die off due to insufficient oxygen.

This process is called eutrophication and is a naturally occurring process where waterways gradually fill with plant life and silt. In nature the process takes thousands of years to clog up lakes. With our un-natural over-fertilisation of the waterways by sending phosphates through the waste-water system, we can speed things up significantly.

The problem of eutorphication is not just one of small streams and lakes. This poses a significant threat to the balance and diversity of whole seas. Recently the World Wildlife Fund has made great strides in getting detergent manufacturers to voluntarily reduce phosphates in a bid to save the Baltic Sea. Although modern waste-water treatment facilities can remove much of the phosphate load in water, we are not all lucky enough to have such high specification facilities. The countries sharing the Baltic Sea possess very different levels of waste-water treatments. Even those with the most efficient, cannot hope to capture all the phosphates in detergents because so many homes are not connected to the sewage treatment systems anyway.

This work to help prevent the Baltic Sea dieing shows how important it is to think of the wider world. So your town may harness 90% of the phosphates you send into the sewage treatment system. That’s great, but you share your waterways and we all share the oceans with others who may have less complicated systems. Plus that 10% will never be captured. If we just prevent the phosphates arriving in the water in the first place we can save ourselves some hassle.

Choosing phosphate free green cleaning products will not stop all phosphates affecting our waterways. Much will still run off land, and be occurring naturally through human and animal waste. But choosing Eco cleaners is an easy way to reduce that burden significantly. The World Wildlife Fund estimate a 24% reduction on the phosphate load of the Baltic Sea simply by removing phosphates from detergents. Once we have done that we can move on to tackling all the other phosphates we are responsible. But if just making our cleaning Eco friendly can reduce the burden by nearly a quarter I think it is worth making the switch.

For more information on green cleaning products and how to make cleaning Eco friendly visit the Eco Green Cleaning Product site.

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