Scrub-up gives Aldi green tick

BUDGET supermarket chain Aldi is taking a green lead in phasing out phosphates from laundry detergents.

The decision, to be announced today, follows a long campaign by NSW Australian of the Year and founder of Do Something!, Jon Dee, to get supermarkets to clear their shelves of products containing phosphates because of their effect on waterways. All laundry detergents sold in Aldi's 250 Australian stores will be phosphate-free by 2013, the chain's buying manager, Stefan Kopp, said.

"This initiative will not only benefit the environment but also our customers, who are increasingly aware and concerned about the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions,'' he said.

Mr Dee said 308 million Americans could buy only phosphate-free laundry powder and asked why it could not be the same for 22 million Australians.

''Coles and Woolies are in a position to ensure all leading laundry detergents can go phosphate-free at no extra cost to consumers,'' he said.

Phosphates are used in detergents to help soften hard water and break down dirt, but when released in waste water they can cause algal blooms that starve aquatic life of oxygen.

ACCORD, the industry association that represents laundry powder makers such as Unilever and Colgate Palmolive, said the amount of phosphate released into Australian waterways was ''negligible''. ''The issue is, quite simply, a furphy,'' a spokesman said.

Unlike the US and Europe, where big population centres are sited on rivers, most Australian cities are coastal, so phosphates can be dispersed in the ocean.

However, Mr Dee cited an algal bloom in 1991, when almost 1000 kilometres of the Barwon-Darling River was described as ''a long ribbon of pea soup''.

Fish and hundreds of sheep and cattle died and tourism was damaged in what the CSIRO blamed partly on high phosphate concentrations, he said.

NSW Liberal MP Catherine Cusack, who is expected to be named environment minister this week, said Aldi's action was better than a regulatory approach.

It was a big step forward for a ''major chain to up the ante on the environmental credentials of what they are selling'', she said.

Dishwasher tablets are particularly high in phosphates, with some containing more than 30 per cent, but they are not included in Aldi's plan.

The European Commission has proposed a ban on phosphates in detergents by 2013.

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