IW Learn DEF
The Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe



Recommendations for the Reduction of Phosphorus in Detergents (Final Report, November 2006)


  • EU and international legislation and voluntary agreements restricting the use of phosphates in detergents
  • Existing and planned legislation, policies and voluntary agreements in Danube Basin countries
  • Production and use of phosphorus-based and alternative detergent builders in Danube Basin countries
  • Current use of alternative (e.g. zeolite-based) detergents in Danube Basin countries
  • Industry and country costs and benefits associated with switching from phosphate-based to more environmentally-friendly detergent builders
  • European experiences with voluntary agreements (types, benefits, risks, content, implementation strategies)


The report found that the Danube countries most requiring reductions in phosphate-based detergents are Romania, Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Ukraine, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Moldova, together representing about three quarters of the Danube Basin population. Romania should be seen as a priority.

While it is recognized that other actions, such as improved urban waste water collection and treatment, as well as 'good agricultural practices', are necessary complementary actions, the study clearly showed that there is ample scope for contributing to a successful resolution of the problem of eutrophication by replacing phosphate detergents with phosphate-free detergents, thereby reducing the total phosphate burden.

The main adverse effect of abandoning the use of phosphates in detergents is expected to be on the phosphate industry, but not on the detergent industry which should be able to adjust detergent formulation and production.

Overall, large multinational detergent manufacturers were not particularly co-operative in working with the project implementers although some dialogue was initiated.

Lessons learned in the Czech Republic demonstrated the difficulties in maintaining a successful voluntary agreement with the detergent industry without legislative back-up. In the Czech case, the agreement was between government and the industry association, and the initial success was eroded because of increasing sales of phosphate detergents by non-members of the association. Similarly, it would be difficult to control imports or the emergence of other manufacturers/suppliers outside any agreements.

Furthermore, few Danube countries outside the EU have experience with voluntary agreements. They do, however, generally follow EU legislation. There is also an indication that manufacturers prefer to await legislation. For these reasons, the study finds that EU legislation to ban or reduce phosphates in detergents would be far more effective in dealing with the problem than voluntary agreements.

Nevertheless, unless EU legislation can be expected in the near future, it may still be worth attempting to negotiate voluntary agreements, since even a partial success could usefully contribute to reductions in phosphates in the Danube river basin.

It will also be important to promote public debate and involvement, and to monitor compliance with any agreements or legislation, possibly with assistance from NGOs.

To view or download the report, visit the DRP website at: