Stories tagged legislation


You might be aware of phosphorus, P, as a key ingredient in your lawn fertilizer. Or, perhaps you’ve seen “Does not contain phosphates” labels on your household detergents. If you haven’t seen these labels yet, chances are high you’ll see them soon. Why??

Phosphorus is Useful as Fertilizer and Detergent...

Fertilizer with P: See the N-P-K?  The P stands for phosphorus.  The number 21 below it tells us the percent of P in the fertilizer.  Many lawn fertilizers are now 0% P.
Fertilizer with P: See the N-P-K? The P stands for phosphorus. The number 21 below it tells us the percent of P in the fertilizer. Many lawn fertilizers are now 0% P.Courtesy Malawi MV project work

Phosphorus is a life-supporting mineral, which is why so many fertilizers contain it. Phosphates, the naturally occurring form of phosphorus, help soften water, form soap suds, and suspend particles making them choice detergents. Supporting life and keeping clean would normally be good things, but phosphorus has a dark side too.

... But, Phosphorus Causes Smelly, Dead Eutrophication

Because phosphorus is so good at growing stuff, it is actually harmful to the environment when it becomes dissolved and concentrated in bodies of water. Phosphorus-rich lakes cause algae blooms – huge increases of algae in a short period of time (kind of like the post-World War II Baby Boom, but for algae). Besides being smelly and turning water green, algae “breathe” the oxygen right out of the lake! Stealing dissolved oxygen even in death, algae create hypoxia – low oxygen, which prevents most other living things from surviving in the surrounding area. This whole process, from phosphorus-loading to algae bloom to hypoxia, is called eutrophication. There are other environmental and health risks to phosphorus, but eutrophication is what politicians are talking about around the water cooler these days.

Icky Algae Bloom: Algae blooms occur in nutrient-loaded water bodies and often led to hypoxia in a process called eutrophication.
Icky Algae Bloom: Algae blooms occur in nutrient-loaded water bodies and often led to hypoxia in a process called eutrophication.Courtesy Felix Andrews

Seventeen States Banned Phosphorus in Automatic Dishwashing Detergents

Deciding that euthrophication was yucky, in July, 17 states, including the entire Great Lakes Commission of which Minnesota is a member, passed laws banning phosphates from automatic dishwasher detergent. That might not seem like a big deal, but automatic dishwasher detergent is said to comprise between 7-12% of all the phosphorus making it into our sewage system (source). Previous legislation has limited or banned phosphorus in lawn fertilizers and laundry detergents.

Consumers Asked to Cope

According to a recent New York Times article, some consumers are getting their feathers ruffled as detergent manufacturers re-do their formulas to comply with state laws. The primary complaint is that the phosphate-free detergents don’t clean as well as traditional formulas. Consumer Reports concurred: of 24 low- or no-phosphate detergents tested, none matched the cleaning capabilities of detergents with phosphates. It may be uncomfortable at first, but learning to cope in a low-phosphorus world is already having environmental and human health benefits.

Green Cleaning: There are several line of green cleaning products that contain low- or no-phosphates.
Green Cleaning: There are several line of green cleaning products that contain low- or no-phosphates.Courtesy Becoming Green

Rest assured, industry officials still want your business and are continually improving their formulations. Indeed, the same Consumer Reports article mentioned above rated seven low- or no-phosphate detergents as “very good.” For the curious, there is a multitude of other websites reviewing phosphate-free detergents online. Pre-rinsing and/or post-rinsing have also been cited as ways to deal with phosphate-free dishwashing detergents.

Peak Phosphorus: Another Consideration

If you still aren’t convinced of the switch, consider this: we’re running out of phosphorus like we’re running out of oil. Phosphorus is a mineral, mined from naturally occurring phosphates, and we’re mining it faster than geologic cycles can replenish it. One Scientific American article cites the depletion of U.S. supplies in a few decades (world supplies may last for roughly another 100 years) given current consumption rates. Without phosphorus, world food production will plummet and with a global population soaring towards 9 billion people, that would be a very sorry state of affairs. If we succeed in limiting our phosphorus consumption, say, through eliminating it from household detergents, we may be able to continue using it in fertilizers and thus keep the human population fed well into the future.

What do you think? Is the phosphate-ban worth it?


California's 25/20 vision: photo from Wikimedia
California's 25/20 vision: photo from Wikimedia

A 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020

California seeks to again lead the world toward a better future. After last weeks "one million solar roofs" legislation, this week California politicians are working out details that will reduce their green house emissions 25 per cent by the year 2020.

The legislation will require all businesses, from automakers to cement manufacturers, to reduce emissions beginning as early as 2012 to meet the 2020 cap. The state's 11-member Air Resources Board, which is appointed by the governor, will be charged with developing targets for each industry and for seeing that those targets are met. The board now will embark on a years-long process to fully develop regulations. The board could impose fees on some industries to pay for new programs that could do everything from requiring truckers to use biodiesel fuels to forcing farmers to handle animal waste differently.San Francisco Chronicle

California is the world's 12th-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, responsible for 10 percent of the carbon dioxide produced nationally and 2.5 percent globally. Global scientists agree that to prevent catastrophic temperature increases in this century, greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 would have to be 70 to 80 percent lower than 1990 levels.

Cap emissions; buy and sell emissions credits

Last week Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the state's senior Democratic legislator, pledged at the Commonwealth Club to introduce legislation in January that would place mandatory caps on industrial emissions. She also supports a federal cap-and-trade bill, a market-based approach for lowering emissions.(see Buzz Blog post about buying and selling pollution) For example, it would allow farmers and landowners who plant trees or convert crops into bio-fuels to earn emission credits that could be sold to companies that exceed emission limits.

What will it cost and who will pay

Some predict that because "green" energy is more expensive, many companies will move out of California. Others insist that investment capital and "clean-tech" jobs will result, similar to when California led the way with Silicon Valley. California would become more efficient and self reliant. This could give them a head start in a future that will certainly need to do something about global warming and rising energy costs.


California goes solar: photo from Wikipedia commons
California goes solar: photo from Wikipedia commons

California again leads the way

Almost every September my wife and I stay with some friends in California. Because their house has solar electricity and hot water we are told to not feel guilty about long, hot showers. Their electricity usage is also pollution free.

One million more solar panels

Californians are leading the way by supporting renewable energy. This week they passed a bill, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday, that calls for the installation of one million rooftop solar panels on homes, businesses, farms, schools and public buildings by 2018.

The solar systems would generate 3,000 megawatts of power and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 3 million tons, equivalent to taking 1 million cars off the state's highways and making California the third biggest solar producer after Japan and Germany.
The California Public Utilities Commission in January approved a $2.9 billion program to help pay for the solar program. The money will come from funds earmarked for solar energy and from gas and electric utility rates. Reuters