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The use of phosphonates is governed by a number of EU regulations and laws related to water, cosmetics, medical uses, and production of food contact materials. The most important are the EU Detergents Regulation and the Regulation on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH).


REACH

All EPA member companies fulfil their REACH obligations through the REACH Phosphonates Consortium. The Consortium is managed by Peter Fisk Associates.


EU Detergents Regulation

Phosphonates are completely different substances from the phosphates which were a common component of detergents in the past and which are covered under the EU Detergent Regulation (259/2012). The Detergent Regulation limits the use of phosphorus in consumer laundry detergents to 0.5 grams per wash, and 0.3 g/wash in dishwasher detergents. These limits were implemented to prevent the sale of phosphate-based detergents (which can contain between 15 and 15% phosphate). High levels of phosphate can contribute to eutrophication problems in areas without appropriate sewage treatment facilities.

Rather than ban phosphorus in detergents, the regulation fixes low limits for phosphorus content. These limits effectively exclude the use of phosphate builders. Phosphate-free detergent formulations require the use of a range of other modern detergent components to ensure washing performance and hygiene. Phosphonates are a key part of this solution and the phosphorus limits defined by the EU detergents directive are high enough in order for phosphonates to be very effective.


EU Ecolabel revision

The EU Ecolabel criteria for detergents are under revision by the European Commission (EC). This revision process takes into account the current market conditions and the EU Ecolabel criteria will aim at addressing the most important environmental impacts of the laundry detergents (consumer and industrial and institutional detergents) in a life cycle perspective.

To this regard EPA drafted its input to welcome and support the proposal to remove the ban on phosphonates that are non-biodegradable from all Ecolabel product groups related to detergents.

EPA has submitted the input to the EC and in particular it focuses on three issues: biodegradability, eutrophication and levels of phosphorus.
- The readily biodegradable criterion is not relevant, since there are no toxicity or eco-toxicity issues for phosphonates used in detergent.
- The phosphorus (P) in phosphonates is not relevant to eutrophication.
- EPA advocates that the P limits set in the EU Ecolabel Criteria should be aligned with the EU Detergent Regulation.

Read more in our position paper.