Microbeads are defined as plastic microbeads that are smaller than or equal to 5 millimeters in size. They are sometimes referred to as microspheres, microcapsules and microplastics.
How are they used?
Microbeads are used in a variety of products, including toiletries that are used to exfoliate or cleanse, which may include non-prescription drugs and natural health products, and used in various industrial applications such as for use in plastic-blasting.
Why did the Government of Canada review them?
There is increasing global concern with regards to plastic litter in the aquatic environment. The continued use of microbeads will likely result in the increased presence of plastic litter in the environment.
On March 24, 2015, the House of Commons voted unanimously to take immediate measures to add microbeads to the List of Toxic Substances in Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act 1999 (CEPA 1999).
To support this vote and requirements under the CEPA 1999, the Government of Canada undertook a thorough scientific review of microbeads that included an analysis of over 130 scientific papers as well as consultations with experts under the Chemicals Management Plan (CMP).
What is the current state of the science?
The Government of Canada has summarized scientific information on microbeads in a Science Summary. Information included in this report indicates that microbeads have shown adverse short-term and long-term effects in aquatic organisms in laboratories.
In addition, microbeads may reside in the environment for a long time and continuous release of these particles to the environment may result in long term effects on biological diversity and ecosystems.
The report recommends that microbeads be considered to be harmful to the environment.
Human health concerns have not been identified in the review of scientific literature and therefore the scope of the Science Summary is focused only on environmental impacts.
How are Canadians exposed to them?
Canadians can be exposed to microbeads by using various products, mostly through toiletries such as bath and body products, skin cleansers and toothpaste.
How are they released to the environment?
Use of products containing microbeads can result in the release of the substance to wastewater systems. Since microbeads are not fully removed from wastewater during treatment, some are released to surface water.
Additionally, entry into the environment can occur through accidental spills and releases related to industrial applications.
What is the Government of Canada doing?
As a precautionary next step to protect our environment, the Government of Canada added microbeads to the List of Toxic Substances under CEPA 1999.
The Government of Canada published the Microbeads in Toiletries Regulations on June 14, 2017. The Regulations prohibit the manufacture, import and sale of exfoliating or cleansing toiletries containing plastic microbeads.
New information on other sources of microbeads in the environment will be used to inform any future action.
The Government continues to work with international partners (through the United Nations and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) to address the broader issue of microplastics, including other sources of microbeads.
What can Canadians do?
As a general precaution, Canadians are reminded to follow directions when using any products, and to dispose of the products appropriately.