Microbeads in our personal care products are now a toxic substance in Canada

Blog post, written for Ottawa Riverkeeper in 2016.

Microbeads have been added to the federal toxic substances list, thanks in part to the efforts of thousands of Canadians who put pressure on the government to recognize how they harm the environment. We commend the Canadian government for taking this first critical step to protect our oceans, lakes and rivers from microbead pollution. Ottawa Riverkeeper is particularly glad to see that this order includes all microbeads up to 5 mm in diameter. This closes a loophole that would have allowed microbeads smaller than 0.5μm across.

The order, published last week, paves the way for the regulation of products containing microbeads. However, there is still much more work to be done before microbeads are banned. Without regulations, even substances deemed toxic by the Canadian government can still be produced and distributed as usual. This is why it is crucial that the Canadian government pass regulations on the distribution of products containing microbeads in a timely manner.

The federal government has begun the regulatory process by publishing proposed regulations to ban the manufacturing and sale of microbeads in personal care products in Canada. We are eager to have these regulations passed quickly, especially as there will still be a period of time before they are phased out of the market and our waterways.

While we are taking important steps to protect our waterways from microbeads, it is important to recognize that microbeads are only part of a larger plastic pollution problem facing our waters. Other microplastics – including industrial micropellets, microfibers from synthetic clothing, and plastic fragments from the breakdown of larger plastic trash – make up a significant amount of the pollution in our waterways. They have the potential to pose similar risks to the health of our aquatic ecosystems.

What is Ottawa Riverkeeper doing?

  • Coordinating the first ever local survey of surface water microplastics with Dr. Jesse Vermaire at Carleton University and our network of over 70 Riverwatchers.
  • Educating and informing the public about microplastics and the individual actions they can take to reduce pollution in our waterways.
  • Continuing to put pressure on the federal government to make sure that the regulations on microbeads are comprehensive and timely.
  • Analyzing broader issues relating to microplastics and determining how to address them proactively.

What can you do to help?

Go on a plastics diet! Reduce how much plastic you consume in your everyday life.

  1. Avoid purchasing products with microbeads.
    • For a list of product in Canada that contain microbeads, visit Beat the Microbead.
    • Avoid toothpaste, soaps, cleansers, and other personal care products with polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and nylon in their ingredients.
  2. Toss the products you do have.
    • Most of us have at least some products with microbeads in them. The best way to dispose of them is to tighten the lid and put them in the garbage. Avoid sending the product down the drain, as most water treatment plants can’t remove them (this is how they end up in our waterways in the first place).
    • Make a statement to the companies that manufacture them by sending the products back to them with a letter explaining that you disapprove of their use of microplastics in their products.
  3. Cut out as much plastic as you can – not just the bead! Plastics are everywhere in our daily lives and there are many other types of microplastics polluting our waterways. Most of them come from the breakdown of plastics in garbage.
    • Say no to bottled water: opt for reusable water bottles and coffee mugs.
    • Cut out the plastics bags: use containers instead.
    • Purchase products in bulk or with limited plastic packaging.
    • Recycle and reuse the plastics you do have.
    • Pick up the plastic litter around you. Much of that plastic is washed into our storm drains and drainage ditches and eventually makes it to our waterways.