Federal government seeks public’s opinion about banning microbeads in personal care products

If you are using a product that contains microbeads, the simple act of brushing your teeth and washing your face is causing the environment harm according to prominent scientists.

Right now microbeads are not listed on Canada’s List of Toxic Substances, but Environment and Climate Change Canada is currently reviewing whether or not to ban plastic microbeads found in all personal care products.

Microbeads, also known as micro-plastics are “tiny bits of plastic,” says Muhannad Malas, the toxics program co-ordinator at Environmental Defence Canada.

These tiny plastics can be found in facial scrubs, toothpaste and body wash. They are added mostly for exfoliating purposes, but sometimes they are just for aesthetics.

The problem with microbeads is that they are so small that they go down the drain and end up slipping past filters. Not even water treatment plants can catch them.

In 2012, research done by the 5 Gyres Institute, a non-profit that aims to lower plastic pollution, revealed a large amount of plastic floating on the surface of the Great Lakes, particularly Lake Erie.

“Plastic pollution makes up a significant proportion of pollution in the Great Lakes,” said Malas.

He says over 6 million bits of plastic per square kilometre can be found in the Great Lakes.

When the microbeads reach the water in lakes and the ocean, wildlife rarely differentiate the plastic from food. Malas says it is likely humans absorb some of the chemicals through food, but there is no extensive research yet on long-term effects on people.

Environmental groups, including Environmental Defence are encouraging the Canadian government to act fast, but Canada’s Chemicals Management Plan process is known to take several years even after a chemical is deemed toxic.

“It’s important that the government comes out with a consistent policy,” said Malas.

“In the past there have been cases where toxic chemicals were declared toxic and it took many years for the next steps to take place.”

“Not only do they sit in our Great Lakes for a long period of time, they act as a sponge for other toxic chemicals, including flame-retardants that are considered hormone-disrupting chemicals.”

In December 2015 President Obama signed a new law that will ban the selling of environmentally damaging microbeads in soaps and toothpastes by July of 2017 in the U.S.

Various companies in Canada have already voluntarily eliminated the ingredient from their products. As of 2014, soap company, Lush, no longer had any products with microbeads, the Body Shop soon followed in 2015. Loblaw recently announced that by 2018 it will remove the harmful ingredient from its cosmetic and household products as well.

“For a ban to be effective. It should not have any loopholes or exceptions. Such as the industry claiming some of their products to be biodegradable,” said Malas.

“There is evidence to show that biodegradable types don’t actually biodegrade or decompose in the cold dark environment of the Great Lakes.”

Malas says natural products such as apricot seeds, almonds, bamboo and oatmeal, can easily replace microbeads.

As the federal government draft a plan to eliminate the ingredient, consumers in Canada have until March 10 to let them know whether they want to scrub out microbeads for good or not.