When Clean Dishes Means Smuggling Detergent

A new law in Spokane makes some cross state lines for dishwasher detergent.

ByABC News
April 7, 2009, 7:08 AM

April 7, 2009— -- Lisa Brewer doesn't consider herself a criminal and she really wants to help the environment -- even biking to work -- but she also wants clean dishes.

That's why later this week, the Spokane, Wash., resident plans to cross into Idaho and smuggle back some dishwasher detergent.

She's not alone.

Spokane County has banned the use of most common detergents because of the effect they have on area rivers and lakes. The problem is, the environmentally friendly detergents now sold instead just don't seem to do the job.

"I understand what they're trying to do, but when you have to wash a load of dishes twice that's a dilemma," Brewer said. "I just ran out of the old stuff and am going to [Idaho] on Thursday."

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Brewer tried a new, eco-friendly cleaner and "my dishes didn't get clean."

"They weren't bad, but the other stuff just did better," she said. "You want to help the environment, but you want your dishes clean."

Most dishwasher detergents in America help get dishes clean with the help of phosphates. The problem is those same cleaning chemicals also lead to algae growth and oxygen depletion in rivers. In Spokane County phosphate levels in rivers and lakes are so high that they are putting fish at risk.

So in July, a new law went into effect banning such water-softening phosphates in dishwasher detergent. It was the first such ban in the country.

But not everybody was happy. Suddenly stores across the border noticed more people with out-of-state license plates stocking up on detergent.

"When Washington first banned, we had a difficult time keeping it in stock," said Randy McIntire, spokesman for grocery chain Super 1 Foods. "I talked to a person who was buying six boxes."

Cigarettes are also cheaper in Idaho and McIntire hypothesized that shoppers are making the trip for a few items, including the banned detergent.