The federal government has officially listed microbeads as a toxic substance, giving it the ability to ban the plastic beads used in cleansers.
An online notice published Wednesday says the tiny plastic beads commonly found in facial and body scrubs is now listed as a toxic substance under the Environmental Protection Act, which gives the government the option to control their use or institute an outright ban.
But microbeads are already on the way out.
The online notice says of the 14 companies that make up the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association — the heaviest users of microbeads in Canada — five have already stopped using microbeads in their products and nine more will follow suit by 2018 or 2019.
Parliamentarians voted unanimously last year to remove microbeads from the market amid concern and evidence of the plastic accumulating in lakes and rivers, harming the environment and aquatic life.
The move followed similar efforts to ban the substance in the United States and Europe.
The former Conservative government announced the move to ban the tiny plastic particles last August, the day before the federal election was called.
The government proposed forbidding the manufacture and import of personal care products containing microbeads by the end of 2017 and ban the sale of such products by the end of 2018.
The online notice says the government is targeting plastic beads that are smaller than five millimetres in size found specifically in personal care products like exfoliants and cleansers.
Federal officials write that they rejected more restrictive wording pushed by industry stakeholders who felt the proposed ban captured too many products and would lead to "unintended stigmatization" of products with some plastic in them, and "over-regulation" of the plastic supply chain in Canada.
During consultations, one industry association accused the government of playing politics rather than relying on science, a charge the government refuted in the online posting, pointing to United Nations research.
In 2014, about 100,000 kilograms of plastic microbeads in exfoliants and cleansers were imported into Canada, with up to 10,000 more kilograms used domestically in the manufacturing of personal care products.