They’re in everything from toothpaste, soap, shower gel, facial cleanser and makeup, and are so small that you can barely seem them. But microbeads, the tiny plastic particles that are used as an exfoliant in hundreds of personal care products, are also an environmental hazard.
Small enough to wash down the drain, and too small to be filtered out at most wastewater treatment facilities, the beads end up in rivers and oceans, where algae and bacteria grow on their surface, causing them to sink to the bottom. The beads, which also attract toxic chemicals, are then eaten by fish and other marine animals, which means toxic chemicals can accumulate in the food chain, as The Story of Stuff Project video shown above explains.
In Canada, that damaging sequence of events could soon end if a private member’s bill introduced in May by Liberal MP John McKay passes. Bill C-680 would “amend the Food and Drugs Act to prohibit the sale of personal care products containing pieces of plastic up to five millimetres in size.” In March, NDP MP Megan Leslie introduced a motion to have microbeads added to the list of toxic substances named under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The motion passed with unanimous support in the House of Commons.
A number of other countries have moved to phase out and ultimately ban the use of microbeads, including the Netherlands and Australia. In America, several states are doing the same thing, including Illinois, New Jersey, Michigan, New York and Indiana.