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Wash for Wildlife
You can help wildlife such as the Platypus by using phosphate-free detergents!
The iconic Australian Platypus is like no other animal on earth! Unfortunately poor water quality is threatening this species and many others.
Help wildlife from the supermarket!
Look out for the text 'phosphate-free' or 'no phosphates' on the packaging of laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent and surface cleaners.
Which brands are best for wildlife?
Zoos Victoria recommends Orange Power and Aware products as they are the only widely available brands that are phosphate-free and palm oil free – great for orang-utans and Platypus!
Other wildlife friendly products...
Heard of wild soap nuts? They are a completely natural and environmentally friendly cleaning alternative.
Why has Zoos Victoria developed this campaign?
- As a zoo-based conservation organisation we are committed to wildlife conservation
- Many household cleaning products contain phosphates which damage local waterways
- Australian Platypus Conservancy studies show a significant link between high phosphates and decline of Platypus numbers
- With than 1.7 million visitors through Zoos Victoria’s gates each year, we have a unique opportunity to engage the community in action with real conservation outcomes
What does the campaign hope to achieve?
Zoos Victoria’s Wash for Wildlife campaign aims to:
- Create awareness around the impact of phosphates on wildlife and the health of waterways
- Encourage at least 30,000 households to make the switch to phosphate-free detergents in one year
- Raise the profile of native Australian species such as the iconic platypus
- Demonstrate the influence conservation-sensitive consumers can have on manufacturers and market choice
How do high phosphate levels impact water quality and wildlife?
Phosphates are naturally occurring nutrients in waterways and phosphates in household cleaning products are completely non-toxic. Problems occur however, when there is excessive discharge into creeks, rivers and the ocean via our drains and stormwater systems.
Some of the main problems associated with high phosphate levels are;
- The potential for algal blooms
- Oxygen starvation of water, inhibiting the survival of some wildlife
- Decreased water clarity, creating a physical barrier to wildlife finding food and escaping predators
- Smothering of some habitats caused by disrupted light infiltration.
Why is the platypus the ambassador animal for this campaign?
Although phosphates also impact ocean ecosystems, high phosphate levels are more of a problem in freshwater streams and rivers where nutrients become increasingly concentrated.
Studies conducted by the Australian Platypus Conservancy (2005) show that there is a significant relationship between high phosphate levels and population density of wild platypus numbers in Victoria. It is suggested that excessive phosphates reduce the abundance of macro-invertebrates on which the platypus feed. Also poor water clarity, caused by increased algae, impedes the ability of the platypus foraging for food by interrupting the platypus’ electro-receptor system
Most of Victoria’s waste water is treated; doesn’t this mean that phosphates are removed anyway?
Whether the water from your home is treated or un-treated and whether this water ends up in inland waterways or the ocean, washing phosphates down the drain doesn’t make sense because:
- Generally, less than half of all phosphates can be removed during the water treatment process.
- Phosphate removal is not available in all water treatment plants throughout Victoria as it requires expensive, specialised equipment.
- High phosphate levels require extra energy and resources to provide suitable water treatment.
- Detergents can also make their way into stormwater which is directly linked to rivers, creeks and the ocean without any treatment.
What sorts of household products contain phosphates?
The three types of products in your home which can have the highest levels of phosphates are;
- laundry detergents
- dishwashing detergents
- surface cleaners
Switching your laundry detergent will have the greatest benefits to wildlife as these contain the highest level of phosphates of all the products in your home .
How do I know if a product is free of phosphates?
In Australia most laundry detergent packaging is labelled with a ‘P’ (contains phosphates) or ‘NP’ (no phosphates) label on the front of their packaging. This is yet to be standardised in Australia but is used extensively.
Most other cleaning products don't list ingredients as they are not required by Australian law to do so. Look out for the words ‘phosphate-free’, ‘no phosphates’ or ‘no phosphorus’ written on the packaging.
There are a few different phosphate-free brands on the market why have you chosen to profile two in particular?
Zoos Victoria profiles Aware laundry detergent and Orange Power cleaning products as they are the only products widely available in major supermarkets that meet all our ‘wildlife friendly criteria’ - In particular because they are both phosphate-free and palm oil free.
We aim to support those brands who take responsible action by removing phosphates and replace palm oil or use certified sustainable palm oil, in the hope that we can inspire other brands to follow.
Can I really make a difference by switching to phosphate-free detergents?
Yes. While they are not the only contributor to such problems, household detergents are a damaging factor and one where immediate action can be easily taken by a large audience to improve waterway health.
Each person who makes the switch to phosphate-free detergents saves around 2kg of phosphates from going down the drain each year.
Aren’t all laundry detergents in Australia removing phosphates soon anyway?
Yes, we think it’s great that all major brands of laundry detergents will be phosphate-free by 2014. For now however, there are still many brands which still contain phosphates, and other household products so it’s still important to choose carefully.
 Melody Serena and Vincent Pettigrove, 2005, Relationship of sediment toxicants and water quality to the distribution of platypus populations in urban streams, Journal of the North American Benthological Society
 Melody Serena and Vincent Pettigrove, 2005.
 Melbourne Water, Eastern Treatment Plant Inputs and Discharges, 2010, Australia, cat. no. 8731.0, ABS Ausstats, 2004, retrieved 17 February 2011, http://www.melbournewater.com.au/content/publications/reports/social_and_environment_data/env_eastplant.asp
 Based on Australian Bureau of Statistics Population statistics (2006) + CSIRO, Water for a Healthy Country Flagship Report
 ‘Wildlife Friendly’ products are those that are phosphate-free, biodegradable, petroleum free, palm oil free, suitable for grey water use and with packaging of a high recycled content.
- More than 450 tonnes of phosphates are washed down Australian drains each week!
- Platypus close their eyes and ears when under water
- Electro-receptors help Platypus to navigate and find food
- Platypus must eat a third of their body weight each night to survive
- Platypus are born with teeth which fall out soon after they first enter the water