Cross your fingers. We may be nearing the end of plastic microbeads in Canada. The other week, a private member’s bill was introduced in Ontario that would ban the addition of microbeads to products being sold in the province. And yesterday, federal MPs unanimously supported a motion to start the process towards a nationwide ban.

Environmental Defence, along with other groups, inspired this week’s vote in the House of Commons with a formal request that we sent to the Minister of the Environment on Monday. We asked the government to take the first step of listing microbeads as a toxic substance. If microbeads are deemed toxic, the federal government would be able to control their use, and put a ban on consumer products that contain this material.

In case you haven’t heard about microbeads yet, they are troublesome bits of plastic that are added to products like body wash and toothpaste for aesthetic and exfoliating purposes. The problem is that they slip right through our wastewater treatment filters and flow directly into our lakes and rivers. Microbeads make up an estimated 20 per cent of the plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. And they are totally unnecessary. There are lots of natural products that can be used instead.

Once in the water, microbeads are eaten by fish and birds that think they’re food. Plastic acts like a sponge, absorbing dangerous chemicals such as PCBs and flame retardants, which accumulate in these species and can be passed on to larger predators. Eventually, the fish and wildlife species that humans eat become contaminated as well.

There are a lot of reasons to believe that a ban is inevitable. A number of large cosmetics companies have already volunteered to phase out the use of microbeads. Illinois and New Jersey have passed legislation that will ban products with microbeads, and similar laws are being considered in at least eight other U.S. jurisdictions.

None of this would be possible without strong public pressure. Environmental Defence’s petitions (one targeted at Ontario, another at the Government of Canada) have received thousands of signatures across the country. With such clear public concern, Ontario MPPs were motivated to move the microbeads bill to second reading, and federal MPs unanimously decided to take an important step towards a nationwide ban. They’ve also added microbeads to the agenda of this summer’s Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment meeting.

All of this action will move us closer to a nationwide ban on microbeads, eliminating a huge source of plastic pollution from our oceans, lakes and rivers.

You can help. If you haven’t already done so, take 30 seconds and ask Ontario and the Government of Canada to ban microbeads. And if you’ve already signed the petitions, pat yourself on the back. You’ve made a difference.