Nova Scotia

Former MP Megan Leslie happy with federal ban on microbeads

Former Halifax MP Megan Leslie is satisfied a motion she brought before the House of Commons in 2015 succeeded — microbeads used in cosmetics are banned in Canada.

Ban 'shows the power of ordinary people in their community to make change,' says Megan Leslie

Former Halifax MP Megan Leslie says she is very happy about microbeads being banned in Canada, one of her last motions made in the House of Commons. (CBC)

Former Halifax MP Megan Leslie is ecstatic about a recent federal government decision that bans manufacturing microbeads in Canada, as well as importing and exporting the tiny plastic substances found in facial and body scrubs.

"It's really a grassroots effort to get these plastic beads banned and it worked so I feel really great about it," said Leslie, who introduced the motion in the House of Commons.

The former NDP environment critic who lost her seat to Liberal Andy Fillmore in the October federal election is still invested in environmental conservation issues. She is now senior consultant on ocean governance with World Wildlife Fund Canada.

"These beads are done. This is great news. It shows the power of ordinary people in their community to make change," Leslie said.

Cosmetic industry was in favour

"A motion went forward in the House of Commons to start the process for Canada to actually look at microbeads and consider them toxic to our ecosystem. But I was only able to do that because thousands of people had signed petitions, saying that these microbeads were bad for our environment and they wanted them banned."

The Canadian federal government has labelled microbeads toxic to human health and the environment. (iStock)

The process went smoothly partly because the cosmetic industry did not oppose it.

"It is actually something the industry has been very much in support of. The Canadian Cosmetics, Toiletries and Fragrances Association … they actually wanted these regulations.

"They had some really good leaders in the cosmetics industry who were phasing out microbeads and they wanted a level playing field so they supported our motion."

Bad product

The product really had no redeeming qualities, she said.

"There's absolutely no reason to make these beads, they don't solve any kind of problem — they're not something we depend on. They're to make your skin glow allegedly, but the same thing could be achieved by using another exfoliant like ground-up walnut shells or oatmeal, there's no reason to have plastic in our products we use to wash our faces," Lesie said.

The microbeads are even found in toothpaste.

"Dental hygienists said they actually found these little plastic beads wedged in, lodged under the gum line where they were causing tooth decay. So the plastic was actually doing the opposite of what toothpaste is supposed to do," Leslie said.

A close up of some of the microbeads found floating in the Great Lakes. (Courtesy of 5 Gyres Institute)

Toxic to marine life

Microbeads were killing marine life  and clogging up water systems.

"Fish will eat these microbeads, they'll ingest them and they'll starve to death and when you cut these fish open, their bellies are full of plastic," Lesie said.

"They [beads] are so small, they can't get filtered out in our water filtration plants or sewage filtration plants and they end up in our waterways where they collect in this big plastic soupy mess and they're incredibly bad for our ecosystem."

On to next problem

With one victory under her belt, Leslie is moving on to microfibres which are also in Canadian lakes, rivers and oceans.

Those substances end up in water systems when "our cosy polar fleece jackets" are washed and shed the plastic microfibres, Leslie said.

"It was the start, I'm glad Canada is leading but we have to tackle plastics in our waterways generally."

With files from Melissa Friedman