Plastics microbeads may be tiny, but they create a huge problem. Microbeads endanger fish and aquatic habitat.
Microbeads are tiny bits of plastic between 0.1 micrometres and 5 mm in diameter often found in facial exfoliants, soaps, shampoos and toothpastes. Microbeads inevitably end up going down the drain. They’re often too small for most water filtration systems to catch and end up in our rivers, lakes and oceans. Microbeads have been used in cosmetics since the early 90s.
Fish often mistake microbeads for plankton or fish eggs and ingest them. They have the potential to block their digestion and starve them of nutrients. What’s worse is that plastic microbeads are thought to attract and accumulate in-water pollutants like PCBs and flame retardants, which can be passed up the aquatic food chain.
A 2014 study found that Lake Ontario and Lake Erie have the highest levels of microplastics compared to the other Great Lakes. The Port Credit area of Lake Ontario averages a staggering one million microbeads per square kilometer. It takes between 500 and 1,000 years for them to biodegrade, so once they’re in the water, they’re there for a while.
Mississauga was one of the first Canadian municipalities to take action. In 2015, Mississauga Councillor Jim Tovey set forward a motion to send a petition on banning microbeads to the Region of Peel and Federal government. A number of large corporations have committed to protecting our water. Loblaw for example said it would stop making products that contain microbeads and other harmful agents by 2018.