Why a Canadian Ban on Microbead Matters

Microbeads. It’s a dirty word, isn’t it? These tiny plastic particles, which first appeared in our personal care products in the late 1970s, have been washing down our drains, making their way past treatment plants, and contaminating waterways across Canada and around the globe.

 

Last Friday, the Government of Canada proposed in a press release that they planned to develop regulations that would ban microbeads from use in personal care products. The regulations would prohibit the manufacture, import and sale of personal care products that contain microbeads.1 The decision was informed by a 130-paper scientific review and analysis.

 

The next steps, the press release states, will be to add microbeads to the List of Toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (EPA).

 

Canada first started getting serious about microbeads back in March, when Environment Canada began to study the dangers they posed to wildlife and the environment. It was at that time the NDP first asked the federal government to list microbeads as a potential toxic substance because of the risk they posed to the health of humans, animals, and the environment.2

 

In 2014, the 5 Gyres Institute did a study of the U.S. Great Lakes, where they found an average of 43,000 microplastic particles per square kilometre. That number doesn’t even begin to come close to what was found near cities (about 466,000).1 In the same year, Illinois became the first U.S. state to enact legislation to ban the manufacture and sale of microbead-containing products; other states began to follow suit, including New Jersey and New York State.

 

Most corporations, including Loblaws and Johnson & Johnson, have promised to phase out microbeads by 2017 or 2018.3

 

Sources

Government of Canada. (July 31, 2015). Harper Government to ban microbeads in personal care products.  Retrieved from: http://goo.gl/BsuWCm.

The Canadian Press. (March 25, 2015). Plastic microbead dangers studied by Environment Canada. Retrieved from: http://goo.gl/j2WeXt.

CTVNews. (July 30, 2015). Ottawa plans to ban microbeads over environmental concerns. Retrieved from: http://goo.gl/sMbRcB.

 

Let’s have a conversation about drought.

We love water, and it’s our love for our watershed that drives us to share stories about our watershed with you. But what happens when water is in short supply? How do we start a dialogue about the lack of this precious resource?

 

Yes, we’re talking about drought.

 

This summer, our province – and the rest of Western Canada – has felt the weight of drought-like conditions. Uncontrolled wildfire, agricultural disaster, and water restrictions have affected much of the western half of our country.

 

Our own North Saskatchewan River is at its lowest flow rate in 14 years, sitting at about a third of what we usually see this time of year. A warm winter and little spring rain is being blamed.

 

The conditions are worst in Southern Alberta, where residents are being asked to use less water and temporary licenses for water use are being restricted. Thousands of hectares of wildfires blaze across Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and Alaska.

 

But is drought like this abnormal?

 

Not exactly. Drought is unsurprising in Alberta and the rest of the prairies, and extreme droughts have been recorded in our province’s history. One of the worst droughts occurred during the Great Depression, when the prairies were plagued with swarms of grasshoppers, crop failure, erosion of topsoil, and salinization of the soil3. The drought lasted into the 1930s, and the average income of Saskatchewan farmers plunged more than 70 per cent in 5 years. This period of time was referred to as the “Dust Bowl,” and regular dust storms swept across the prairies of North America. Drought has come and gone since then, and the last drought of such magnitude struck in the 1980s4.

 

Yet, it is the continuity and widespread nature of the drought this year that is abnormal: the dry area extends from the edge of Northwest Ontario to the Pacific Ocean, and from the Mexican border to nearly the Arctic Ocean2. The drought impacts us economically and environmentally. Along with personal daily use, our province needs water for our crops, construction projects, and recreation.

 

Since our watershed receives most of its depth from snowmelt, winter warming will have increasing effects on our watershed. Climate change increases the variability of precipitation, and periods of drought may increase in frequency and length4.

 

We’re watching our watershed for the effects of this year’s drought.

 

 

Resources

 

Mertz, E. (July 9, 2015). North Saskatchewan River at lowest flow rate since 2001. Global News. Retrieved from: http://globalnews.ca/news/2101549/north-saskatchewan-river-at-lowest-flow-rates-since-2001/.

 

Mandel, Charles. (July 13, 2015). Is this drought caused by climate change? The National Observer. Retrieved from: http://www.nationalobserver.com/2015/07/13/news/drought-caused-climate-change.

 

Prairie Drought and Recovery. (2015). Canadian Geographic. Retrieved from: http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/atlas/themes.aspx?id=farming&sub=farming_20thcentury_drought&lang=En.

 

Drought in 20th Century Alberta. (2013). Alberta Water Portal. Retrieved from: http://albertawater.com/history-of-drought-in-alberta/drought-in-20th-century-alberta.

 

Water & Drought. (2015). SaskAdapt. Retreived from: http://www.parc.ca/saskadapt/adaptation-options/theme-assessments/water-drought.

 

 

Paying tribute to water on Canada Day

Here in Canada, we have a lot to be thankful for – and a lot of it has to do with water.

We have access to some of the most abundant freshwater sources on the planet. Our network of lakes, streams, and rivers provides us with the water we drink every day, a place to relax, swim, fish, and paddle, and a scenic backdrop for much of our landscape. As Canadians, we are also some of the highest water users per capita in the world. This Canada Day, let’s recognize the importance of our more precious resource.

Here are five facts about Canada’s freshwater.

  1. Canada has more lake area than any country in the world, and much of this lies within the Great Lakes network. The combined shoreline of the Great Lakes is nearly 50 per cent of the earth’s circumference, and this network of lakes is the largest system of freshwater on earth. The Great Lakes provide drinking water to 8.5 million Canadians. Lake Ontario is so large that it supplies drinking water to nearly 30 per cent of Canada’s population. 
  1. There is more water underground Canada than on our country’s surface. More than 8 per cent of Canada is covered in lakes, and our rivers discharge 7 per cent of the world’s renewable water supply – but this is still less than what lies beneath our country. Groundwater provides drinking water to about a quarter of Canada’s population, and is essential for farming and manufacturing.
  1. The majority of lakes on the Canadian Shield were created by glacial erosion, including the Great Lakes. Glacial lakes form when glaciers recede, carving a hole in the surface. Glacial melt causes the hole to become filled. Glacier ice can measure over 100,000 years old at the base.
  1. Wetlands cover more than 1.2 million square kilometres in Canada, and our wetlands make up about 25 per cent of the global area. Canada is the largest wetland area in the world, and are essential for the health of our ecosystem and the water we drink. Wetlands retain water, prevent flooding, filter and purify water, and replenish and store groundwater. In the past, wetlands were considered wasteland, and much of the wetland area in southern Canada was drained or filled for farming and building operations. 
  1. Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park is the second largest glacier-fed lake in the world. Maligne Lake is one of the most photographed locations in the world, drawing fame and attention for its colour, surrounding peaks, visible glaciers, and Spirit Island, a tiny island that sits in the lake.

Sources

Water. (2015). Environment Canada. Retrieved from: https://www.ec.gc.ca/eau-water/.

Fact Sheet: The world and water. (2007). RBC. Retrieved from: http://www.rbc.com/community-sustainability/_assets-custom/pdf/Fact-Sheet-The-World-and-Water-EN.pdf.