In recent years, I have made great strides in being more environmentally conscious. I recycle, I bring reusable bags to the grocery store, I use compact fluorescent light bulbs, I support local farmers by participating in a CSA, I made the switch to environmentally friendlier laundry detergent, and I have a high-efficiency washer. I am successful in this due in large part to Mr. F. who is a crunchy hippie who poses as a right-wing conservative so as not to get beat up at work.
However, I learned the other day of an area where in I have been remiss in my environmental stewardship: dishwasher detergents. For some reason, dishwasher detergents weren't on my radar as hazardous material. Perhaps, it is because, I thought phosphates were banned in dishwasher detergents like they were in laundry detergents. However, this is not the case. I learned of my oversight when I read a status update for a friend of mine which complained of wanting stronger dish detergent since the stuff currently available in Spokane, where phosphate dish detergents are currently banned, is not as effective.
Oi vey! To think that I had been willy nilly dumping phosphates down the drain without thinking about it! And I knowing the direct consequences of that action! Afterall, my masters thesis was all about hypoxia (e.g. low dissolved oyxgen in the water) as a result of eutrophication (e.g. excess nutrients in the water) and its affects on fish.
In case you don't understand what the fuss is all about, I will give you the eutrophication low-down.
1. So the water from your house, loaded with lots of phosphates and other gunk, gets transported in some fashion to the waste water treatment facillity where it is supposedly "cleaned up" and then dumped back into the environment. In most instances, it is dumped directly into a large body of water. While treatment facilities do a fairly decent job getting rid of excess nitrogen in our water, they don't get rid of the phosphate really well. This is because the treatment facilities are CHEAP and LAZY. The current method for removing phosphate is kind of expensive, and it results in some sludge that has to be dealt with. Plus, they are too lazy to figure out and to switch to a better way, although new methods are out there. The result? There is a lot of phophorus that makes it to the water.
2. Phosphorus is like crack to algae, and as a result, algae go crazy when they get some. This is why you get large blooms of green stuff in your bays, rivers, and lakes as a result of your dirty wastewater. This is o.k. for a bit because lots of algae means a lot of oxygen is being produced, and there is a lot of food for organisms to eat.
3. However, algae have the life-time of, like, a nanosecond. So after a short time, this massive amount of dead plant material drops to the bottom of the water column.
4. This makes the microbial benthic communities (e.g. the microscopic bugs that break-up dead matter) really, really happy, and they go to town. As a result of this huge meal at their fingertips, their population explodes. The problem? It requires a lot of oxygen to break-up this dead stuff, more oxygen than was produced by the algae in the first place. The result--an oxygen deficit in the water. This is known as hypoxia.
5. So, what does low dissolved oxygen in the water mean? Well, what do you think would happen if there was not enough oxygen in the air? WE WOULD DIE. And that is what happens to nearly all living organisms that are in the water.
So, I think this is a good reason not to use dish detergents with phosphorus in them. However, like my friend complained, some of the eco-friendly detergents out there aren't as good. One article stated however, that it was the enzymes rather than the phosphates that made the difference. The enzymes are also more effective in the powedered detergents than the liquid ones. So, that might be something to consider.
However another inexpensive alternative is to make your detergent at home. Besides being eco-friendly, it is also less expensive. Whoop! Here is the recipe that I have been using since finding out My Big Mistake.
1 1/2 C mule team borax
1 1 /2 C baking soda
1 C table salt.
I find it works quite well. The key is also not to over-pack your dishwasher, especially the top shelf. Also, you might just have to rinse your dishes a bit better before sticking them into the dishwasher.
Any other suggestions or thoughts on the matter?