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Microbeads banned in Canada from 2018, under new government plan

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Jenni Sheppard Nov 04, 2016 7:45 am 9,719

Your beauty products are about to change – minutely. The Government of Canada is planning to ban toiletries containing plastic microbeads starting July 2018.

The Microbeads in Toiletries Regulations would prohibit the manufacture, import, sale, or offer for sale of toiletries that contain plastic microbeads in Canada.

Microbeads are most commonly used in exfoliating and cleansing products, such as bath and body products, skin cleansers, and toothpaste.

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In 2014, around 100,000 kilograms of microbeads in personal care products were shipped to Canada, while up to 10,000 kilograms were manufactured here.

The proposed microbead ban was announced in the government’s official Canada Gazette, which says the ban would apply to microbeads equal to or smaller than 5 mm.

The move comes after the federal government amended the Environmental Protection Act to include microbeads in their list of “toxic substances.”

The House of Commons voted to add microbeads to the list last year, prompting the Department of the Environment to review existing research on them.

The Department of the Environment found that plastic microbeads “have shown adverse effects in aquatic organisms.”

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Cleansers and exfoliators containing microbeads are a particular problem because the product inevitably ends up being washed down the sink after use.

Orange facial scrub wash (Steve Cordory/Shutterstock)

Microbeads are often found in exfoliation products (Steve Cordory/Shutterstock)

The beads are too small to be entirely caught by wastewater treatment plants and are therefore ending up in Canadian waterways.

Microbeads have now been reported in coastal British Columbia, the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence, and in coastal Atlantic Canada, says the Gazette entry.

The microbeads are then easily consumed by wildlife, and are shown to have harmful short- and long-term effects on marine mammals, fish, invertebrates and fish-eating birds.

According to the Gazette, some studies have shown microbeads can make it difficult for some aquatic species to feed, leading to reduced body growth and reproduction.

Microbeads already banned elsewhere

Canada’s proposed microbeads ban is designed to align with upcoming federal restrictions in the US, where microbeads are already banned in nine states.

The new US law will restrict the manufacture or introduction, or delivery for introduction, into interstate commerce, of rinse-off cosmetic products containing microbeads.

It’s hoped banning microbeads in Canada at the same time as they are restricted in the US will stop Canada becoming a dumping ground for US microbeads toiletries.

Microbeads have been found in the St. Lawrence River, where they could be harmful to fish-eating birds like this Atlantic Puffin (Pierdelune/Shutterstock)

Microbeads have been found in the St. Lawrence River, where they could be harmful to fish-eating birds like this Atlantic Puffin (Pierdelune/Shutterstock)

Elsewhere, in Australia, the government plans to ban microbeads if a voluntary phase out by companies does not work.

As well, the European Union has removed its “reduced environmental impact” Ecolabel guarantee from all microbead products, and is considering a total ban.

In Canada, the proposed microbead ban would apply to any personal hair, skin, teeth or mouth care products for cleansing or hygiene.

According to the Gazette, the microbead ban would be implemented in two stages for two separate groups of exfoliating and cleansing products.

  • Toiletries containing microbeads, excluding natural health products or non-prescription drugs:
    • January 1, 2018 – ban on manufacture and import
    • July 1, 2018 – ban on sale or offer for sale
  • Non-prescription drugs and natural health products:
    • July 1, 2018 – ban on manufacture and import
    • July 1, 2019 – ban on sale or offer for sale

The proposed microbead ban would not apply to prescription drugs, or to products in transit across Canada.

How to avoid microbeads

Until the ban comes into force, if you want to avoid buying products containing microbeads, look for common microbeads ingredients on the label:

  • polyethylene (PE)
  • polypropylene (PP)
  • polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
  • polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)
  • nylon

Alternatively, check Beat The Microbead to download an app to help you check for products containing microbeads while you’re shopping.


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Jenni Sheppard
Jenni is a former Senior Staff Writer at Daily Hive. Happy Vancouverite. Traveller, snowboarder, foodie, film fan, feminist, geek, cheesemaker, curler.

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