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



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.