TORONTO AND OTTAWA — Environmental Defence, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, and Ottawa Riverkeeper, represented by counsel at Ecojustice, have submitted a formal request to Hon. Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment, asking the government to place microbeads on the Priority Substances List. The request, if accepted, would prompt a review on a priority basis of whether microbeads should be classified as a toxic substance.

Millions of tiny plastic particles are flushed into Canadian waters each day. Measuring less than 5 mm in diameter but generally around 0.5 mm, microbeads are found in soaps, facial scrubs, and toothpaste. The tiny beads are too small for wastewater treatment plants to remove, so they end up in lakes, rivers, and oceans instead.

Once in the environment, microbeads can destroy habitat, cause fish to starve, and absorb dangerous toxic chemicals. Classifying microbeads as a “toxic substance” under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 gives the federal government the authority to control their use, including instituting a ban on the use of microbeads in consumer products.

As public outcry against microbeads builds momentum, major manufacturers have voluntarily agreed to discontinue the use of microbeads. While an increasing number of U.S. states and the Province of Ontario are working to ban microbeads, Canada’s federal government has yet to make a move.


“We need to do something about the growing problem of microbeads building up in our waterways and lakes. Various U.S. states are already proposing bans, several large cosmetics companies are voluntarily doing phase-outs, and there are plenty of safe alternatives available. It’s time for Canada to take action as well.”

– Nancy Goucher, Water Program Manager with Environmental Defence

“Microbeads are appearing all over the Great Lakes, destroying habitat, fish, and wildlife. They needlessly contaminate our food and water supply. The way government, business, volunteer organizations, and individuals respond to the microbeads crisis will send a signal. It will tell the world and future generations just how much we value our freshwater heritage.”

— Mark Mattson, environmental lawyer and President of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper

“The growing problem of microbeads accumulating in our lakes, rivers and oceans must be solved. These tiny plastic particles are showing up in the guts of aquatic animals and in our beer. Canada must take action to protect our valued freshwater heritage.”

— Meredith Brown, environmental engineer and Executive Director of Ottawa Riverkeeper

“Not only do these tiny pieces of plastic pose a threat to iconic water bodies like the Great Lakes, effective and widely available biodegradable alternatives render them completely unnecessary. It is time for Canada to regulate microbeads like the toxic substance they are.”

— Liat Podolsky, Ecojustice staff scientist


Quick Facts

  • Microplastics are considered to be less than 5mm in diameter. The majority of microbeads used in consumer products are less than 1mm.
  • Polyethylene and polypropylene are the most common forms of microbead found in consumer products.
  • Small aquatic species mistake microbeads as food. Once eaten, non-digestible plastic remains in their intestines and causes starvation.
  • A single bottle of product (e.g., facial cleanser) contains approximately 300,000 microbeads
  • Researchers have found more than 1.1 million plastic particles per square kilometre in Lake Ontario.
  • Microbeads currently make up 20 per cent of the plastic pollution in the Great Lakes.
  • The Great Lakes are a source of drinking water for 37 million people.
  • Section 64 of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act contains the definition of a toxic substance.

Photos are available upon request.

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