Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I Can See Myself (Polluting) In My Sparkling Dishes!

The bloom in the river is turning it green
And it’s killing off all of the fishes,
The river is dying, tree-huggers are crying,
But Mabel, just look at my dishes!

They sparkle! They glimmer! They’re spotlessly clean!
They’re as gorgeous as gorgeous can be!
The scientists may see the cause of the bloom,
I see a reflection of me!

We used to find perch here, and big rainbow trout,
Now it’s carp, gulping air as they spawn;
It’s ugly, so turn your gaze elsewhere, and look
At my beautiful, beautiful lawn!

It’s lush and it’s leafy, it’s weed-free and dense,
A most wonderful deep shade of green;
Sure the chemicals cost a bit more to apply,
But the sacrifice works, as you’ve seen!

The rivers and lakes, and the oceans as well
Are polluted with all sorts of ooze,
From shipwrecks and oil spills and who all knows what—
We’ve watched it each night on the news—

We’ve got to do something! It really looks bad!
This pollution is truly obscene!
But our dishes, our laundry, our car and our lawn,
We’ve been doing our part to keep clean!

From NPR, a story today on why your dishes aren't as sparkling clean as they used to be. Turns out, it's not your fault. Dishwashing detergent has been reformulated, without phosphates.
This was supposed to be good for waterways. But it turned a simple chore into a frustrating mystery for many people across the country.

A couple of months ago, Sandra Young from Vernon, Fla., started to notice that something was seriously amiss with her dishes.

"The pots and pans were gray, the aluminum was starting to turn black, the glasses had fingerprints and lip prints still on them, and they were starting to get this powdery look to them," Vernon says. "I'm like, oh, my goodness, my dishwasher must be dying, I better get a new dishwasher."

Young's not alone. Many people across the country are tearing out their hair over stained flatware, filmy glasses and ruined dishes.
But this is NPR, so I'm sure the story will remind us that phosphates contribute to algal blooms, and show this obsession over sparkling dishes for the vanity it is. Right?
But dirty and damaged dishes are turning many people into skeptics, including Wright.

"I'm angry at the people who decided that phosphate was growing algae. I'm not sure that I believe that," [Sue] Wright [from Austin, Texas] adds.
Um... skeptics? Those who require evidence? NPR, the word you were looking for was "pinheads". But I'm sure there will be a scientist speaking soon, to set Wright... er, right.
Susan Baba from Procter and Gamble says the company had no choice. It just wasn't feasible to make detergent with phosphates for some states and without them for others.

"You know, this isn't really a huge environmental win," she says.

That's because phosphates are wonder ingredients. They not only strip food and grease from dishes but also prevent crud from getting reattached during the wash. So she says without phosphates, people have to wash or rinse their dishes before they put them in the dishwasher, which wastes water. Or they run their dishwasher twice, which wastes electricity.
I'm sure an industry spokeswoman is unbiased, though. Who needs scientists to speak for the science?

Anyway, you just know that NPR (NPR!) will close by chastising the people who are more concerned with seeing their reflections in their dishes than seeing the pollution they are dumping into the ecosystem. Never put your outhouse upstream from your well, and all that. Right, NPR?
But not everyone is willing to adjust. Sandra Young figured out a way to undo the phosphate ban — at least in her own kitchen.

She bought some trisodium phosphate at a hardware store and started mixing her own formula.

"It seems to be working pretty good," Young says.

Other people have given up on their machines altogether and are washing dishes by hand. But some are switching to other brands and making peace with phosphate-free detergents.
Thanks, NPR--I never would have thought of that! I'll just pop right out to the hardware store, and my problem is solved! It's now the problem of the people (and other organisms) who live downstream.

Funny thing about an ecosystem. We're all downstream. Thanks, NPR.


Unknown said...

Enjoyed the snazzy beat to this and the last sentence of your comment very much. Thank you.

Summitwulf said...

Well, I wash my dishes by hand in a sink using Ecover dishwashing liquid and Bon Ami on stained items. Works very nicely.

Tor Bertin said...

Wow, it's not like the connection between phosphates and eutrophication has conclusively demonstrated for three decades or anything...

Daily Dose said...

You are the Shel Silverstein of science. I love your work.

dvizard said...

But dirty and damaged dishes are turning many people into skeptics, including Wright.

"I'm angry at the people who decided that phosphate was growing algae. I'm not sure that I believe that," [Sue] Wright [from Austin, Texas] adds.

That reasoning is just hilarious. My dishes are getting dirty without phosphate. THEREFORE, the science behind phosphate and algal blooms must clearly be wrong. If my dishes were clean, on the other hand, there would be a high probability that these scientist might be right...