Proposed regulations for microbeads in personal care products: chapter 2

2 Background

2.1 Microbeads

Microbeads can vary in chemical composition, size, shape, density and function. Microbeads are manufactured for specific purposes, including for use in personal care products (including cosmetics, non-prescription drugs and natural health products) such as scrubs, bath products, facial cleansers, and toothpastes.

Microbeads are a contributor of plastic litter in the environment. Microbeads from “down the drain” products will likely be released into the aquatic environment after wastewater treatment. Microbeads may reside in the environment for a long time, and continuous release of these substances to the environment may result in long-term effects on biological diversity and the ecosystems.

2.2 Current uses

In 2015, the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association (CCTFA) voluntarily surveyed its members on the use of synthetic plastic microbeads for exfoliating and cleansing, and it shared this usage information with the Government of Canada. The annual quantities of microbeads reported to be used in Canada by CCTFA members ranged from 30 kg/year to 68 000 kg/year.

Of the 14 members of the CCTFA that responded to the voluntary survey and have used or were using microbeads in 2015, 5 had already eliminated the use of microbeads for exfoliating or cleansing and 9 had committed to do the same by 2018 or 2019, consistent with U.S. legislation. CCTFA member companies cover the majority of personal care products sold in Canada that contain microbeads.

Further data on usage of microbeads in personal care products that are used to exfoliate and cleanse was gathered through a mandatory survey notice. under section 71 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA). This survey was designed to gather information on the import, export and manufacture of certain microbead-containing personal care products in Canada. Deadline for response to the survey was October 15, 2015. This survey has helped to identify quantities used, concentrations of microbeads in products, product details and implicated stakeholders to support the development of the regulatory proposal.

2.3 Situation in Canada

2.3.1 Federal activities

At the June 22-23, 2015, meeting of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), ministers acknowledged the efforts by industry to eliminate the use of plastic microbeads from consumer products and supported the Government of Canada’s scientific review of microbeads in personal care products as part of the listing process under Schedule 1 of the CEPA. They noted that provinces and territories may take additional complementary actions to restrict the use of microbeads.

Two bills (C-680 and C-684) on microbeads were tabled during the 41st session of Parliament to amend the Food and Drugs Act and Part 7 of CEPA, but they did not proceed prior to dissolution of Parliament.

Microbeads are not specifically regulated in Canada; however, cosmetics, natural health products and non-prescription drugs such as toothpastes may contain microbeads and are regulated under the Food and Drugs Act (including the Cosmetic Regulations and the Natural Health Products Regulations).

2.3.2 Provinces and municipalities

On March 9, 2015, a Private Member’s bill in Ontario was introduced to phase out microbeads in consumer products. This bill proposed a prohibition on the manufacture of microbeads or addition of microbeads to cosmetics, soaps or similar products. In this bill, microbeads were defined as non-biodegradable solid plastic particles measuring less than one millimetre in diameter that are used in cosmetics, soaps or similar products as cleansing or exfoliating agents. The bill has passed second reading.

In addition, the cities of Toronto and Montréal, as well as the Quebec Metropolitan Community, have passed motions encouraging bans on the use of plastic microbeads in personal care products at the federal and provincial levels.

2.3.3 Industry

Many Canadian and multi-national users of microbeads have made voluntary commitments to phase out their use in certain products under similar timelines to legislation in U.S. states.

2.4 Actions in the United States

Currently nine states in the U.S. including Illinois, Colorado, Wisconsin, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut and California have passed laws that prohibit selling and manufacturing of microbeads in personal care products. Timelines for the prohibitions range from 2015 to December 31, 2019.

In addition, a U.S. federal bill (H. R. 1321) entitled “The Microbeads-Free Waters Act of 2015” was signed into law on December 28, 2015, that will place restrictions on the manufacture or introduction or delivery for introduction into interstate commerce of rinse-off cosmetics containing plastic microbeads. The law will pre-empt State microbead laws. The prohibition will come into effect on July 1, 2017, for manufacture, and on July 1, 2018, for sale. For non-prescription drugs, the timelines would be July 1, 2018, for manufacturing and July 1, 2019, for sale. Products covered under this law align with the Canadian regulatory proposal.

2.5 Actions in the European Union

In December 2014, at the European Union Environmental Council meeting, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Sweden jointly called on European Union member states to ban the addition of microbeads to personal care products, in order to protect the aquatic environment from pollution. According to a petition response issued on April 29, 2015, an arm of the European Commission is gathering the necessary information and evidence for developing options to achieve a reduction of microplastics in cosmetic products. These efforts are being made in light of requests at the European Union Environmental Council meeting to ban microplastics in cosmetic products.

Page details

Date modified: