Have you heard of microbeads? The tiny balls of plastic were once thought of as a wonder ingredient for everything from toothpaste to dish detergent.
But they’re causing havoc in the ocean, and now the federal government is moving to get them off of shelves.
But Matthew Unger, chair of the Vancouver Surfrider Foundation, says the devil is in the details.
LISTEN: Guest host Drex talks microbeads with Matthew Unger
So what exactly is a microbead?
“Micro bead is defined as something under two millimeters in diameter, it’s made out of a plastic substance, usually polypropylene or nylon – essentially they’re used as a filler in a lot of face washes, scrubs, toothpastes, dishwasher detergents, laundry detergents. And they’re there to displace the soap because one plastic is cheaper, and two, they’re thought to be scrubbers or exfoliants.”
They’re hardly new, but it’s only recently that scientists have begun to understand why they’re such a problem. Unger says they’re so small that they pass completely through filtration in our sewage system, absorbing toxins along the way, and ending up in English Bay and the Georgia Straight.
“We see whales, filter feeders, crustaceans, oysters clams, all sorts of things ingesting, inhaling, and retaining these microbeads in their flesh and in their stomach tissues, and even ending up on our dinner plates.”
The bid to ban
The EU has passed legislation banning microbeads, along with several US states, and the American federal government is looking at a bill currently.
Ottawa, too, has pledged to phase them out and is currently in a consultation period with the public – so far, Environment Canada has received 200 letters on the subject.
But this is where Unger says it gets tricky. He says the wording of the ban – and whether it includes all forms of plastic and all products – is key.
He says he expects moves from plastics companies to fight the ban, as in the U.S. where corporations were successful at watering legislation down.
“What happened in Illinois is the actual microbeads producers, plastic manufacturers, were able to say you know what? Let’s make it out of plastics that are made from corn… things that aren’t made from oil taken from fossil fuels.”
He says anyone concerned about he issue has until March 10th to contact Environment Canada and make their voice heard.
He says Ottawa is looking at having a ban in place by 2017, and have microbeads off the shelves by 2018.