Feds label microbeads as ‘toxic substance’ in key step towards outright ban

OTTAWA – The federal government has officially listed microbeads as a toxic substance, giving it the ability to ban the plastic particles commonly used bath and shower products.

An online notice published Wednesday said the tiny beads found in facial and body scrubs are now listed as a toxic substance under the Environmental Protection Act, which enables the government to control their use or outlaw them altogether.

The government wants to ban microbeads and expects to have draft regulations ready by the fall, a spokeswoman for Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said. Those rules are expected to be finalized by next summer, Caitlin Workman said.

Ottawa aims to phase out their use in scrubs, bath products, facial cleanser and even toothpaste “to protect the long-term health of our environment and to keep Canada’s lakes and rivers clean,” Workman said.

The government originally proposed forbidding the manufacture and import of personal care products containing microbeads by the end of 2017 and ban the sale of such products by the end of 2018.

Workman said details about the timing of a ban is still being worked out.

Microbeads, meanwhile, are already on their way out.

The federal notice said of the 14 companies that make up the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association — the heaviest users of microbeads in Canada — five have already stopped using microbeads in their products and nine more will follow suit by 2018 or 2019.

Parliamentarians voted unanimously last year to remove microbeads from the market with evidence of plastic accumulating in lakes and rivers, where it harms ecosystems and aquatic life.

Their stance on the issue followed similar efforts to ban the substance in the United States and Europe.

The former Conservative government announced it would ban the tiny plastic particles last August, the day before the federal election was called.

The online notice in the Canada Gazette said the government is targeting beads that are smaller than five millimetres in size — larger than the two-millimetre limit originally considered.

The wording specifically targets microbeads found in personal care products like exfoliants and cleansers.

Federal officials write that they rejected more restrictive wording pushed by industry stakeholders. The notice said those stakeholders felt the proposed ban would capture too many products, lead to “unintended stigmatization” of goods with some plastic in them and over-regulate the plastics supply chain in Canada.

During consultations, one industry association accused Ottawa of playing politics rather than relying on science. The government refuted the charge in its online posting, pointing to United Nations research.

In 2014, about 100,000 kilograms of plastic microbeads in exfoliants and cleansers were imported into Canada, with up to 10,000 more kilograms used domestically in the manufacturing of personal care products.

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