That, in the opinion of the House, microbeads in consumer products entering the environment could have serious harmful effects, and therefore the government should take immediate measures to add microbeads to the list of toxic substances managed by the government under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue.
I am proud to stand here to debate our motion and to start the process for banning microbeads in products that we use everyday. The time has come for us to begin that step toward protecting the health of our ecosystems and our health as humans. I am pleased that the NDP is dedicating this entire day of debate to the issue of microbeads.
My only regret is that my colleague from Windsor West is not here today because this is his motion, not mine. The MP for Windsor West has been working tirelessly with industry, environment groups and citizen action groups on this issue. Unfortunately, he is not here today to see his work culminate in an opposition day motion and a debate in the House because his grandmother passed away last week. He is speaking at her funeral today, and he is with his family.
We are real people in the House and we have real joys and real sorrows. This is a moment of sorrow for our colleague from Windsor West. He is with his family where he should be, celebrating the long life and legacy of Marion Masse, affectionately known as “Ma”, who lived a long 96 years. Our thoughts are with the member and his family.
We will carry on with this debate. It is officially in my name because one needs to be here for the motion to be in one's name. However, we know in our hearts that it is the member's hard work that actually brought this motion to the House.
What are we debating? Microbeads are these tiny little beads of plastic, and members would be amazed what they are in. They are in so many different products. Think about those products that you use to create that rosy glow you have, Mr. Speaker, and exfoliate your skin. They are in those abrasive toothpastes we use or in the body wash we use in the shower.
It may be okay to use these microbeads on our skin, but it is not okay to use them once they get into the environment and our ecosystems, and they are not okay for our health. These microbeads are plastic. A tube of toothpaste has tens of thousands of these tiny plastic beads in them. We brush our teeth and they go down the drain into our waterways. We wash our face and millions of these tiny plastic beads go right down the drain and end up in our lakes, our rivers and our oceans. That is not what we intended.
These plastic microbeads are so small that they are consumed by a variety of marine life. We have seen them in plankton. Plankton is about the smallest thing we can get, yet these microbeads are it. We have seen them in shellfish and in mollusks. We know that fish are ingesting them. We start with small fish, but then go up the food chain to larger fish. Think about the microbeads that are accumulating in these fish and mollusks. They are being eaten by birds, seals, whales and us. At the end of this food chain, we are ingesting marine life that has tiny beads of plastic in it.
Animals are suffering because of this plastic. We have seen cases of asphyxiation where animals cannot breathe. We have seen fish guts filled with plastic and fish that have starved to death because they cannot eat anymore as they are so filled with plastic. We have seen disruption at the cellular level. We know this is having an impact on the very cells of marine life. There is something terribly wrong here. I do not know that having that rosy glow is worth it when we see these beads go right down the drain and into our ecosystem like this.
We also know that these tiny beads are almost like sponges and they absorb other toxins from the water. We know they absorb DDT and PCBs. They are in everything, from mollusks to fish to seals. At the end of the day what happens when we eat that wildlife?
How did this happen? Our grandparents would add oatmeal to soap to have that abrasive quality. We used to use natural products like oatmeal, ground almonds or sea salt. However, in the seventies, these little plastic beads were developed and they really took off in the 1990s. Now we almost cannot buy a product without these microbeads in it. They are pervasive, they are everywhere. I will admit, I have fallen into this trap. Jojoba beads are in my face wash, and I did not do the investigation to find out what that meant. Unbeknownst to me, I am flushing plastic down my drain along with everybody else. We do not realize these plastics are in our products.
Plastic beads are in toothpaste. Last night I did a Facebook post at the end of the evening, so it was a little too late for most of my folks on the east coast to pick up on this post, but other people commented on it. I had a number of posts from dental hygienists. They said that they were seeing these microbeads build up behind people's gum line, and they have to peel this plastic out from behind their gums, which is then causing even more gum disease and damage to our teeth. We did not expect that to happen. These are the unintended consequences of having put plastics into products we use every day.
A lot of people on my Facebook posts admitted they had no idea. They just assumed it was something like oatmeal or that these jojoba beads must be something positive and natural. That is not the case. More education is needed on this issue for sure, but we also need action to ban these microbeads from our products.
On the education front, Environmental Defence and Ecojustice in particular have done a lot of work on this issue. Environmental Defence has done a great job of raising awareness around microbeads. It has talked to me about this and has said that there has been incredible pickup from the community at large, that people are interested in this issue, that they do not realize the microbeads are there and that they are really concerned about what it means for our environment and our health.
Environmental Defence has done really good work at the provincial level. For example, in Ontario a private member's bill is working its way through the Ontario legislature. I believe it passed second reading, and Environmental Defence has been promoting that work.
Environmental Defence has also worked on a petition to deal with this at the federal level. If we have one province doing X and one province doing Y, we end up with a patchwork and it does not help anybody, including industry. Therefore, Environmental Defence has talked about the fact that this should come from the federal level.
How do we do it? Environmental Defence has started with a petition. The critics for the environment and the Minister of the Environment get emails from people. This weekend I received 2,500 contacts from this petition. I know there are almost 7,000 signatures on it already. Environmental Defence is working with Ecojustice, the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and the Ottawa Riverkeeper. They have written a letter to the Minister of the Environment asking her basically what we are asking for in our motion today, which is to take the first step of listing this as a toxic substances under CEPA, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, so we can do an assessment and take that first step toward banning these microbeads.
A lot of people think we are taking on the cosmetics industry. A lot of industry has voluntarily banned these beads. I am happy to report that Colgate-Palmolive and Unilever, for example, have taken the steps to ban these beads, but they want an even playing field. They want to ensure that everybody is adhering to this, and they want regulation.
I am holding in my hand a letter from the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association. It talks about our motion. It points out the work of my colleague from Windsor West and says that this is the general advice and direction for which its industry is most supportive. Therefore, we are not getting push back from industry.
We really need to act and ban these microbeads. The best way to deal with pollution is to prevent it in the first place. We are on board, the environment groups are on board and industry is on board. I look forward to the debate in the House today. I hope the government is on board with this as well and that we can act swiftly to get rid of these microbeads before it is too late.