Plastic Microbeads – What is all the fuss about?

Get caught up on how microbeads are finding their way into our lakes, rivers and oceans and find out what you can do to help.

Plastic microbeads, tiny pieces of plastic smaller than 1mm in diameter, are turning up in our rivers, oceans, in the guts of many aquatic animals and even in our beer!

Waterkeeper-microbeads5-zoomedinCosmetics companies have been adding these non-biodegradable plastic beads to personal care products such as facial and body scrubs and toothpastes. These products are eventually rinsed down our drains and travel to your local wastewater treatment facility. Most facilities are not designed to remove such small particles – the result is that microbeads find their way into our lakes, rivers and oceans.

Once in our waterways, microbeads attach to contaminants and sediments and end up transferring pollutants to the wildlife that ingest them.  Recent studies have found them in the surface water and sediments of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.
Luckily, some people are recognizing the problems microbeads are creating and we are starting to see leadership and action on this issue. A number of high profile companies that use microbeads in their products have agreed to phase out the use of them within the next few years.  Last year, Illinois became the first of the United States to ban the use of plastic microbeads in personal care products, and other states, as well as some parts of Europe, are working towards such a ban.

Most recently, change is coming to Canada on this issue:  we were very pleased to see MPP Marie-France Lalonde introduce a private member’s bill in the Ontario legislature earlier this week that would ban the manufacture of microbeads and their addition to consumer goods such as cosmetics and soaps.  The ban would take place two years after the bill comes into effect, if passed.  We will follow the course of this bill closely. We urge MPPs to support the bill and make Ontario the first jurisdiction in Canada to ban microbeads from personal care products.

Waterkeeper-microbeads4-ingredientsYou can also take action and play a role to help solve this pollution problem. When you are shopping for personal care products such as soaps, scrubs and toothpastes, please check to see if they contain plastic microbeads (the most common are made of “polyethylene” and “polypropylene”).  Choose products with ingredients that are natural and therefore biodegrade in the environment.

Remember, everything you put on your skin eventually ends up down the drain when you shower. All household water pipes eventually lead to our river…where we swim, drink and fish.

Yours sincerely,

Stephanie Bolt on behalf of the team at Ottawa Riverkeeper

*All microbead photos courtesy of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper


Check out Beat the Microbead, the international campaign against microbeads in cosmetics.


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