Update on Microbeads plastic pollution

Plastic microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic that are found in some personal care products, and that can end up in the food chain. They are less than five millimetres in size, but typically ranging for commercial purposes from 0.0004 to 1.24 millimeters.

This article from WIRED's James Temperton, notes that:
  • "A September 2015 study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology estimated that 808 trillion plastic microbeads are washed down US household drains every day. Of those, eight trillion make it through water treatment plants and out into lakes, oceans and rivers. According to the UK parliament’s environmental audit committee, a single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles being washed down the drain."
  • "As they’re so small, collectively microbeads have a huge surface area. This allows them to absorb large quantities of toxins and other pollutants. Once they’re out in the wild, microbeads can also be easily ingested by marine animals."

    What's being done?

    The US has signed a bill into law that will keep microbeads in the US out of the Great Lakes. Here is a short article by Rich McCormick from The Verge Dec 2015, on the passing of the law.

    In Canada, plastic microbeads that are less than or equal to 5MM in size have been added to the Toxic Substances List. Legislation was proposed as follows:

    • "The Government of Canada wishes to inform you of the publication of the proposed Microbeads in Toiletries Regulations pursuant to subsection 93(1) of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. The proposed Regulations would phase in prohibitions for the manufacture, import, sale or offer for sale of toiletries that contain plastic microbeads including non-prescription drugs and natural health products.
    • "On February 9, 2016, ECCC published a consultation document for a 30-day public comment on the proposed Regulations for Microbeads in Personal Care Products Used to Exfoliate or Cleanse. The title subsequently changed. Public comments were solicited and considered in the development of the proposed regulations. Stakeholders will have until January 19, 2017 to submit written comments on the proposed Regulations. The proposed regulations can be found in the Canada Gazette."
    • For further information on the Government of Canada’s actions on microbeads, please visit here.

    Canadian Manufacturers - In this Global News Article by staff of the Canadian Press and according to the Canadian Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association, a majority of Canadian manufacturers responsible for 99 per cent of the total amount of plastic microbeads used in 2014 have already committed to a voluntary phase-out by the time the federal prohibition comes into force."

    NOTE - UPDATED MAY 3rd 2018. According to Health Canada:
  • As of January 1, 2018, the manufacture and import of toiletries that contain plastic microbeads will be prohibited unless the toiletries are also natural health products or non-prescription drugs, in which case the prohibition will begin July 1, 2018.
  • As of July 1, 2018, the sale of toiletries that contain plastic microbeads will be prohibited, unless the toiletries are also natural health products or non-prescription drugs, in which case the prohibition will begin July 1, 2019.

What can you do now?

As for microbeads, according to waterkeeper.ca, " You should still be vigilant by avoiding products that carry these as they get phased out.

To check If a product contains microbeads, look at the list of ingredients for an ingredient that starts with “poly.” Poly indicates the ingredient is a form of polymer and has synthetic properties. Commonly listed ingredients are: polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and nylon. Read more at waterkeeper.ca, partner to Georgian Bay Forever.

Sources and acknowledgements

Thank you to the sources for information in this post.

Note - We try to bring together information to help understand this topic. We do use sources to provide information and visuals. We do our best to attribute properly and try very hard to get it right. If we have made an inadvertent mistake around recognizing someone’s work or misinterpreting the work, please let us know via email at communications and I will correct.

  • http://www.wired.co.uk/article/microbeads-international-ban-damage-marine-life-plastic.
  • http://www.theverge.com/2015/12/28/10680648/us-ban-microbead-2017-law-president.
  • http://www.ec.gc.ca/lcpe-cepa/eng/regulations/detailReg.cfm?intReg=238.
  • http://globalnews.ca/news/3047732/plastic-microbeads-will-be-banned-in-canada-effective-mid-2018/.
  • www.chemicalsubstanceschimiques.gc.ca/plan/approach-approche/microb-eng.php.
  • http://www.waterkeeper.ca/cases-microbeads/.
  • US Strengthens Toxic Substances Law
  • https://conbio.org/images/content_policy/03.24.15_Microbead_Brief_Statement.pdf
  • The Government of Canada