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Microbeads are plastic microspheres that are widely used in cosmetics as exfoliating agents and personal care products such as toothpaste or soaps. They are most frequently made of polyethylene but can be of other petrochemical plastics such as polypropylene and polystyrene.

In the United States, microbeads are defined as less than five millimeters in its largest dimension. Microbeads are commercially available in particle sizes from 10 µm to 1000 µm (1 mm). Microbeads pose an environmental hazard when disposed of in municipal wastewater. Because they can pass through sewage treatment plants without being filtered out, their disposal has resulted in plastic particle water pollution.


CWQA's position on it:


The use of microbeads in pharmaceutical and personal care products have resulted in the contamination of the natural environment with the physical plastic beads but also the chemical byproducts as they break down.


How it impacts our members:

While at the moment this does not affect member companies, the definition of a microbead can include an ion exchange resin bead that is used extensively by the industry. To manage the risk of regulation, members should practice responsible disposal of any resins to prevent them from getting into the water course. This means recycling or disposal at an appropriate landfill site.  In the future, if needed, the industry will develop other measures.  


What is CWQA doing about it:


CWQA is monitoring the policy situation closely in Canada. To mitigate this risk, CWQA has worked with member companies to develop a sustainable process to recycle these styrene beads at its end of life into a useable filtration media. Since the devices that use resin beads are typically an installed device, done by a qualified installer, the removal and disposal of the material should be done in a responsible manner.


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