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The need to regulate microbeads

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 3/27/2015 1:08:00 PM

The rare moment of civility on display in the House of Commons on March 24, 2015 was welcomed by Darren Praznik, president and CEO of the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CCTFA). According to Praznik, for more than a year the CCTFA has been quietly lobbying and educating federal government officials on the risks of microbeads – tiny plastic particles included as abrasives in a range of consumer products, how industry is dealing with the issue on its own, and on the need for a national regulation to level the playing field.

What happened in the House of Commons was a bit of theatre – an NDP motion urging the government to add microbeads to the list of toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. In part thanks to the CCTFA’s work behind the scenes, all parties in the House were already behind the issue and the motion passed unanimously.

Microbeads are found in everything from toothpaste to contact lens cleaner, says José Luis Gutiérrez-García, co-founder and project director of UpGyres, a Vancouver-based organization that is part of a global movement to ban microbeads from consumer products. The problem with microbeads, Gutiérrez-García told EcoLog News, is that they are too small to be captured by sewage treatment systems. Instead, they collect on lake, river and ocean beds where they absorb contaminants, are consumed by marine life and work their way up the food chain.

Praznik narrows the issue from microbeads to non-biodegradable plastic microbeads. The industry concedes that they are an environmental problem, and its leaders either have or are committed to eliminating them from their products, he says. Fourteen CCTFA members use or have used microbeads in their products, Praznik told EcoLog News. Five have already eliminated them completely, and the other nine have committed to doing so.

But that’s not good enough, says Praznik. There’s still a need for a federal regulation to address counterfeit products and small players that occasionally enter and exit the market.

Gutiérrez-García wants industry to move more quickly. Rather than call for federal legislation, he says the big players in the industry should be pressuring the smaller players to follow their lead, and if provincial legislation can accomplish that, he’s all for it. “We want provinces to take direct responsibility – each and every one. We can’t wait any longer.” (Ontario introduced on March 9, 2015 a Private Member’s Bill 75, the Microbead Elimination and Monitoring Act, 2015.) 

That’s the nightmare scenario that Praznik wants to see avoided in Canada.  In the United States, where federal action is extremely unlikely, the industry and the Council of State Governments have put forward a model piece of legislation that the state of Illinois has adopted. Other states, however, have gone their own way, leading to the possibility of different states having different definitions of microbeads and different timelines for phase-out.

Praznik wants to see Canada adopt a version of the Illinois model as a regulation under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. It would address the problem here and serve as an example that American states can draw upon.



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