Washing powder excess having disastrous effect on local waters

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 January, 2010, 12:00am

Hong Kong households use more than 30,000 tonnes of washing powder and softener in a year - an amount equal to the weight of 172 Boeing 747 aircraft, a survey has found.

More than 2,000 people participated in the online survey by a lifestyle website last month and sponsored by the distributor of a chemical-free washing ball that replaces powder with nano technology.

On average, respondents said their households washed 3? loads of laundry per week, using 1.4 scoops of washing powder or 0.9 bottle-cap measures of liquid softener each time. The average wash runs for 1.3 hours, the survey found.

The overuse of laundry powder also means that more water and electricity are needed during the rinse cycle, contributing to the two million cubic metres of waste water daily.

There are two million households in the city, the Census and Statistics Department found lasts year.

Sixty-four per cent of respondents said laundry chemicals can cause skin allergy problems; more than 90 per cent said discharged laundry chemicals have a serious or very serious impact on marine life.

Professor Ho Kin-chung, dean of science and technology at the Open University of Hong Kong, said non-biodegradable laundry powder contains phosphates and total inorganic nitrogen (nitrite, nitrate and ammonia), which damage the ocean.

'Overuse of washing powder has serious consequences for the environment and the ecosystem,' said Ho, adding that biodegradable laundry powder is not necessarily better for the environment because it still contains some phosphates in soluble form.

Ho said phosphates are the key contribution to the growth of red tide organisms, and the trend of red tides has changed over the years.

During the '80s and '90s, red tides tended to occur in contained waters near industrial areas and villages without waste water treatment, such as Tolo Harbour.

Red tides were frequent then but only affected an area of only one to two square kilometres, for two or three days.

In the past few years, open waters west and south of Hong Kong Island became affected, for up to two weeks at a time. The size of the affected area has also increased to three or four square kilometres.

Cleaning away life

Washing machine powder excess is seriously affecting the environment

Household use in HK is equivalent in weight of Boeing 747 planes numbering: 172