07/31/2015 11:50 EDT | Updated 07/31/2016 05:59 EDT

Microbeads Ban Forthcoming, Federal Government Says

The Associated Press
Canada is one micro-step closer to a federal ban on microbeads.

The Conservative government said Thursday it is proposing to add microbeads to the list of toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Microbeads are the tiny, plastic pellets that are most commonly found in skin care and exfoliation products.

In a news release, Labour and Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch, on behalf of Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, said the government is also working on developing regulations that would prohibit the manufacture, import, sale and offers for sale of products that contain microbeads. 

According to the release, the government will conduct "a survey of industry stakeholders" to gather information that's needed in order to support the proposed regulations. 

The announcement comes just ahead of the expected start to the official campaign for the upcoming federal election.

It also comes four months after the NDP passed a unanimous motion in the House of Commons calling for the government to "take immediate measures to add microbeads to the list of toxic substances" under CEPA. 

Companies, U.S., ahead on bans

Microbeads are not harmful when used directly, but issues arise once they are washed down the drain. They are so small that they can make it through most water treatment plants that don't have filter systems designed to catch minuscule particles.

The plastic fragments then make their way into lakes, rivers and streams, where they can be ingested by water-dwelling organisms such as fish. Aside from harming fish, they could also end up in the food chain and affect human health.

The tiny plastic pellets contribute to major plastic pollution in lakes and other bodies of water. 

A 2014 study of the U.S. Great Lakes by the 5 Gyres Institute found an average of 43,000 microplastic particles per square kilometre. Near cities, the number jumped to 466,000.

Loblaw is one company that has already announced that it will voluntarily stop making products with microbeads by 2018.  Large multinationals such as Unilever, Johnson & Johnson and the Body Shop have also announced their intent to stop using microbeads.

South of the border, a few states have banned them outright.

​In the United States, Illinois became the first jurisdiction in the world last summer to pass legislation that would ban the manufacture and sale of microbeads by 2018 and 2019 within its borders. The state of New Jersey quickly followed suit in the fall of 2014, and Wisconsin became the third state to do so on July 1. 

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