Don’t worry, the soap police will not appear at your door July 1.
That’s the date Spokane County will become the first and only Washington county to require ultra-low phosphate dishwasher detergent. By 2010, every Washington county will follow Spokane County’s lead under a new state law prohibiting the sale of dishwasher detergents with phosphorus contents higher than one-half of 1 percent.
“Probably, people will store up on the no-no detergents before they come off the shelves,” said Jani Gilbert of Washington’s Department of Ecology. “That’s OK, because sometime soon they will run out and need to buy the detergents that protect the environment.”
Admittedly dishwasher detergents are a small part of the problem, but phosphorus is a bad actor in the river. Algae blooms gorge themselves on it, then die, fall to the bottom of the river and take with them life-nourishing dissolved oxygen. If you’ve seen those icky looking algae blooms in Lake Spokane in the summer, you’ve witnessed the destructive power of phosphorus.
The bill generated some intense lobbying by the major soap manufacturing companies that sell the most popular brands of phosphate-laden detergent. Environmentally conscientious consumers here already have discovered “nil-phosphate” detergents made by small manufacturers. They purchase them from health food stores or in the “green sections” of some grocery stores.
But Gilbert said, “The big detergent manufacturers have assured the state that they are working on nil-phosphate detergents now and will have them on the shelves as soon as possible.”
Major detergent manufacturers can temper their disappointment about the bill’s passage by remembering that Spokane long has been known as an excellent test market for new products. All other Washington counties have to switch to nil-phosphate detergent in two years. There’s plenty of time to test the big-name new products in Spokane.
It’s still uncertain which government entity will become the soap police – Spokane County or the Department of Ecology? That needs to be worked out soon, though the best enforcement will be public support.
And yes, some consumers will drive to neighboring counties or Idaho and load up on phosphate-rich dishwasher detergents. But rather than resist, consumers should be ready to comply July 1. The Spokane River is well worth it.