Lake-damaging microbeads will soon be banned in Canada

Microbeads Steve Cordory/

They may be tiny, but they have a hugely damaging effect on bodies of water everywhere. Microbeads—minuscule pieces of plastic that are often used as exfoliants in cleansers and toothpastes—are known for their damaging effects on water ecosystems, but soon they will be banned in Canada.

The motion won’t come into effect until the end of the year, but it’s still one of the best 150th birthday gifts Canada could give itself. On January 1, 2018, all production of products containing microbeads must cease, and by July 1, 2018, the sale of products containing them will also be banned. Microbeads have already been listed as a toxic substance under the Environmental Protection Act.

The initiative to ban the beads was led by an NDP MP from Windsor, Brian Masse.

“Microbeads are filling our lakes, streams, and oceans and pose a threat to the environment, ecosystems, and likely to human health. Everyone agrees that microbeads need to be removed from our personal care products and it is finally going to be done in Canada,” Masse said in a media release.

Microbeads are defined as pieces of plastic that are five millimetres or less in size, and studies have shown that the Great Lakes are full of them. Lake Erie has the highest recorded concentration of microplastics out of every body of water on Earth, with one sample site showing 466,000 particles per square kilometre. Microbeads are small enough that they cannot be filtered out by water treatment plants, and they are often mistaken for food by fish and eaten, which can cause death.

Eliminating microplastics is just one small step that we can take to improve the environmental health of Canada, but it is a significant one. Let’s hope that in coming years, Canada will take more steps like this one.