Belgium to ban phosphates in detergents

Government approval for prohibition draws attack from polyphosphates industry association

The Belgian government will ban the use of phosphates in washing powders from July 2002, the environment ministry announced last week. According to the ministry, the move will have "unquestionable environmental benefits" and is also "wholeheartedly supported" by 90% of Belgian detergent producers and distributors.

The ministry said that 80% of detergents on the Belgian market were already phosphate-free. The national trade association had pledged to stop delivering phosphate-containing detergents from January 2001, a ministry spokesperson added.

Phosphates can cause eutrophication - or over-enrichment - of surface waters. Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland all have legal restrictions on their use in domestic detergents. Ireland recently phased them out in this use under a voluntary agreement (ENDS Daily 14 December 1999)..

Belgium's move drew sharp criticism from the European centre for polyphosphates (CEEP), a sector group of chemical industry association Cefic, which claimed that banning phosphates would cause more harm than good. According to CEEP, detergents contribute only 11% of phosphates found in European municipal wastewaters, compared with nearly half from agriculture and nearly one-quarter from other household sources.

CEEP yesterday questioned why Belgium did not instead strip nutrients from municipal wastewaters as required under the 1991 urban wastewater treatment directive (ENDS Daily 18 November 1999). Banning phosphate in detergents would "redirect and worsen the problem," it protested, and substitute chemicals "currently have a similar impact on the environment," and an equal or higher treatment cost.

Follow Up:
Belgian environment ministry, tel: +32 2 220 2011; CEEP, tel: +32 2 676 7211, and text of decree

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