The Canadian government has announced a ban on microbeads, and this progressive move will keep this harmful plastic pollutant out of Canada’s waterways.

When products containing microbeads, such as cleansers, lotions and toothpastes, are used and rinsed down the drain, these bits of plastic — typically 1.0 millimetre or smaller in diameter — are too small to be caught by wastewater treatment facilities. Instead, they are flushed directly into lakes, rivers and streams, where they wreak havoc on wildlife. Scientists have found millions of microbeads in the Great Lakes, with the highest concentrations occurring near urban areas.

Although once considered innovative, microbeads are entirely replaceable. Many natural exfoliants such as oatmeal and apricot kernels are readily available alternatives.

Microbeads make their way into many organisms, including plankton, invertebrates, small fish, birds and mammals. Along the way they act as sponges for dangerous chemicals and contaminants such as PCBs and flame retardants that are already present in the aquatic environment. When fish, birds and other wildlife ingest these plastics, the harmful pollutants accumulate in species low in the food chain and are passed onto larger predators, eventually contaminating the fish and other wildlife species consumed by humans.

Earlier this year, the federal government classified microbeads as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Last Friday (Nov. 4), they introduced regulations banning their use in personal care products. According to the notice published in the Canada Gazette, the ban on the sale of toiletries containing microbeads used to exfoliate or cleanse will come into effect by July 1, 2018. The ban on natural health products and non-prescription drugs containing microbeads will be in place by July 2019.

This is an important final step in the federal government’s obligation to address this environmental concern, and it puts Canada on a schedule that follows on the heels of the American ban of microbeads.

We commend the federal government on its swift implementation to ban microbeads. We are pleased that it stepped up and responded to public concerns – including ours – over the continued discharge of microbeads into Canada’s rivers, lakes and streams. Although there is much work still to be done, this is a great move forward in setting Canada on the right path to cleaner and healthier waterways.