Fish-friendly laundry and dishwasher detergents  

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Washing powders and dishwasher detergents will need to be almost phosphorus-free in future, following a vote in the European Parliament on Wednesday. The measures aim to protect aquatic life in waterways and seas around the EU.

Parliament gave its approval to measures, which had been provisionally agreed with the Council, with 631 votes in favour, 18 against and 4 abstentions. The Council now needs to approve the agreement formally for it to become EU law.

"By strictly limiting phosphorus in consumer laundry and dishwasher detergents we have done the environment a good turn and consumers will be assured that these products will be more environmentally friendly", said Parliament's rapporteur Bill Newton Dunn (ALDE, UK).

Phosphorus limits and dates

From June 2013 a standard dose of washing powder must not contain more than 0.5 grams of phosphorus. At Parliament's insistence, a deadline was also set for phosphorous in dishwasher detergents: a limit of 0.3 grams by 1 January 2017. (The Commission had proposed only a review to consider the possibility.)

The deal struck by Parliament brings dishwasher detergents under the rules, while allowing industry the necessary time to update its products.

Harmonised rules

Some EU countries already have phosphorus restrictions in place, particularly for laundry detergents. The new EU legislation will mean companies will be able to work under one set of rules, instead of differing ones across the 27 Member States.

The problem with phosphorus

Phosphorus, in the form of phosphates or phosphonates, helps wash clothes and dishes, especially in hard water, but its release into waterways can lead to algal blooms that stifle fish and other aquatic life. The Baltic Sea and Danube Basin are particularly badly affected. Treatment to remove phosphorus from water is expensive and not always available.

Procedure: Co-decision (1st reading)