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Canada Bars Use of Plastic Microbeads in Toiletries

The Canadian government has banned the production and importation of plastic microbeads in toiletries, which comprise personal hair, skin, teeth and mouth care products for cleansing or hygiene, including exfoliants as well as any covered product that is also a natural health product as defined in the Natural Health Products Regulations or a non-prescription drug. More specifically, the production and importation of most toiletries that contain microbeads is banned with immediate effect, while the production and importation of toiletries that are also natural health products or non-prescription drugs will be prohibited from 1 July 2018. The sale in Canada of microbead-containing toiletries that are not also natural health products or non-prescription drugs will be barred from 1 July 2018, while the sale of microbead-containing toiletries are also natural health products or non-prescription drugs will be prohibited from 1 July 2019.

The plastic microbeads that are the focus of this prohibition are solid plastic particles known to be equal to or less than five millimetres in size (in the largest external dimension) that are added to toiletries. Some examples of these toiletries include facial or body scrubs, bath products, facial cleansers and toothpastes. These plastic microbeads are eventually washed down the drain when consumers use toiletries that contain them. As plastic microbeads are too small to be entirely captured by wastewater treatment plants, a portion of these microbeads continually enters the aquatic environment in Canada.

Canadian authorities indicate that plastic microbeads have been found, along with other microplastics, in surface waters, sediments and aquatic organisms. A 2015 study found that of the total amount of microplastics entering wastewater treatment, a significant amount (about ten percent) was expected to be released into the environment. In Canada, they have been reported in coastal British Columbia, the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence and coastal Atlantic Canada. Plastics, including microplastics, have also been measured on the shores of Lake Huron, Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair.

The issue of marine litter, including microplastics and plastic microbeads, has garnered increased attention and interest in international fora in recent years. Nine states in the United States - Illinois, Colorado, Wisconsin, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut and California - have passed laws that prohibit the selling and manufacturing of microbeads in personal care products. On 28 December 2015, the Microbead­Free Waters Act of 2015 was signed into federal law as an amendment of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The law places restrictions on the manufacture or introduction, or delivery for introduction, into interstate commerce, of rinse­off cosmetic products containing plastic microbeads. The restrictions on rinse­off cosmetic products containing microbeads came into effect on 1 July 2017 for manufacture and will enter into force on 1 July 2018 for introduction or delivery for introduction into interstate commerce. For non­prescription drugs, the timelines are 1 July 2018 for manufacture and 1 July 2019 for introduction, or delivery for introduction, into interstate commerce.

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