Since it became a staple home product, detergent has used phosphate as one of its primary ingredients, but the best green cleaning products avoid it. The phosphate acts as a builder, which is necessary for both removing grime and preventing that faint, soapy residue that sometimes appears on clothes. Many alternative builders, however, exist, and they should be sought after by anyone who cares about local ecosystems and their own drinking water.
Chemical contamination doesn’t just come from factories: it occurs wherever chemicals are released into the earth, which often happens in the home. Residue from detergent can pollute the area around any house with a washing machine, and rain will eventually send it into local streams and lakes. Phosphate is integral to plant nutrition, but an overabundance of it can destroy ecosystems. Lakes with abnormal levels of phosphate will produce excessive amounts of algae—killing fish, smelling terribly, and preventing swimmers or boaters from enjoying the water. Eventually, the algae build up results in a process called eutrophication, which makes the lakes dense with plant life and then dry up entirely.
When phosphate contamination extends into reservoirs and groundwater, drinking habits are radically affected. Costs of filtration can increase exponentially, and even then, the taste and smell sometimes make faucet water undrinkable. The responsibility to avoid this pollution doesn’t rest solely on governmental restrictions. As long as customers have a choice in their purchases, they have a voice, and choosing phosphate-free products will tell all detergent producers to change their ingredients.